"I was walking down the hall to my apartment and suddenly this man, an American, shouted at me in Spanish: 'Stop! Immigration authorities.'
"I told him and two other men I was legally in the country and had my papers in order, but they wouldn't believe me."
Thus Juan Pizarro, a 22-year-old Chilean, began recounting his version of an incident that happened last week involving persons who identified themselves as Immigration and Naturalization Service agents.
The ordeal was one of many incidents and problems described at two nights of hearings on immigration and related matters held by the Mayor's Commission on Latino Affairs.
"The man said he had a warrant to arrest an Iranian student," continued Pizarro, "but it seems funny he'd shout at me in Spanish if he was looking for an Iranian.
"Then he and the other two pushed their way into my house without a warrant. My family was terrified. We are all legally in the country. I sent my sister down to my car to get my papers to show them and she couldn't find them.
"The man really got mad then and started shouting that he was going to arrest me. I convinced him to let me go down to my car and get the papers. We went down together and of course I found the papers right away.
"He said he was going to take me in anyway because I had illegal aliens in my house. We explained we had been told at INS that my sister and brother-in-law had (visitor's) visas valid to stay a few more days. We showed them to the men plus the air tickets to leave, but they didn't pay any attention.
"They handcuffed me and my brother-in-law and took us to immigration headquarters. I was there for a couple of hours before a friend called a lawyer who helped me get out."
Pizarro left Chile two and a half years ago with his father, mother and three brothers and sisters. The Pizarro family was granted refugee status in the United States and entered the country with valid refugee visas that allow them to live and work here.
Pizarro was one of dozens of witnesses and several hundred spectators who gave and heard testimony on all aspects of immigration problems during the hearings in the auditorium at Sacred Heart School, 1625 Park Rd. NW.
Among those presiding over the hearings were Alda Berio, head of the District's Office of Latino Affairs; Sister Mary Ann Justiz, president of the commission; Angel Luis Irene, executive director of the Council of Hispanic Agencies; Father Sean O'Malley, director of the Spanish Catholic Center, Maria Squelle, director of the Wilson Center; and Latino commission members Casilda Luna and Felix Toledo.
Witnesses who testified at the hearings included private individuals and others representing all the District's major Hispanic agencies and groups including tenants' associations, housing counseling services, literacy action groups and legal aid organizations.
"Contrary to popular belief," said Dr. Richard Lanje of Andromeda Hispano Mental Health Center during his testimony, "undocumented immigrants do not commit crimes.They themselves fall prey to all kinds of violence and exploitation."
Lawyer Arturo Hernandez dealt during his testimony with the problems police face dealing with the Hispanic community, and called on Mayor Marion Barry to "confer with his police officers" to find out how best to resolve those problems.
The local commission is preparing a summary of the hearings and their findings to present to Mayor Barry. The D.C. government then will draw up a report on local immigration problems for consideration by President Carter's Select Commission on Immigration.
"The hearings have been an undoubted success," said O'Malley of the Spanish Catholic Center. "We've been able to air all kinds of problems people have been having including alleged harassment of Hispanos who are legal immigrants or U.S. citizens, delays in visa procedures, exploitation of Hispanic domestic workers and the status of refugees."