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Demonstrators object to arrests of illegal immigrants from area

ELLENSBURG -- Ricardo Gonzalez hopes that his parents, who were arrested last week on immigration-related charges, will be released.

But even if they have to go back to Mexico, the U.S.-born Gonzalez wants to stay here and pursue his goal of going to college.

The Ellensburg High School junior joined dozens of other students this week to demonstrate against the arrests of his parents and others.

"I want justice for all the families that were taken. I feel they treated us like criminals," said Gonzalez, who expects that he will now have to find a job in order to support himself and his younger brother.

The suspects were arrested last week as authorities served search warrants at more than 20 locations around Ellensburg. Some suspected illegal immigrants were not arrested so they could care for children, according to reports.

Gonzalez said he has lived in the Ellensburg area for seven years. His mother worked for a hotel, his father for a nursery.

"I want to be something in my life," he said.

The protest, which brought together more than 50 Ellensburg students and other supporters, was held in front of the William O. Douglas Federal Courthouse in downtown Yakima. Later in the afternoon, some of the 14 people arrested last week appeared in the same courthouse for bail hearings.

Federal magistrate James Hutton approved their release on the criminal charges, although the suspects were expected to remain in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The U.S. Attorney's Office asked for the defendants to remain in custody because they are a flight risk, but Hutton said that he was bound to release them because they weren't dangerous, among other factors.

Federal officials have said that the arrests resulted from an investigation into the production and distribution of forged documents. The 14 defendants face charges related only to possessing counterfeit work documents or falsely claiming American citizenship.

The investigation, which Hutton said started in 2008, was intended to uproot the document source, authorities said.

Critics suggest that the only result was to disrupt wage-earning families, some of whom have lived here for several years.

Job Pozos, a regional official for United Farm Workers, said he understood that most of those arrested had worked at some point for two hotels in the Ellensburg area.

Pozos helped organize the courthouse demonstration. He said students skipped school in order to show their support for the Gonzalez family and others affected by the arrests.

He expressed frustration that the arrests were made even as Congress failed to pass any of three measures proposed to help illegal immigrants gain legal status. The country relies on illegal immigrants for labor but doesn't want to address how to integrate them into the population, he said.

Mark Holloway, co-owner of D & M Coffee in Ellensburg, joined the protest and also had been working with an Ellensburg coalition that's trying to help the defendants' families with basic needs, such as housing.

Holloway said he's concerned that forcing parents back to Mexico will leave their children adrift, perhaps leading to crime or other expenses for society.

He said those arrested were only trying to live a better life.

"The criminal violation is that they are taking care of their families," he said.

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