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ICE Raids a Hot Issue for Next Presidency

Resource type: News

NY Newsday |

by ALBOR RUIZ YOU WOULD’VE thought the dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in full battle gear that descended on Laurel, Miss., Monday had found Osama Bin Laden. That, though, was not the case. It turns out that their mission was much easier and far less risky. What took place in the small town of Laurel had little to do with national security. The ICE agents did not go to Laurel to battle dangerous terrorists or capture murderous criminals. They were there to raid yet another factory and round up hundreds of poor, powerless workers in another episode of the merciless war the Bush administration has declared on immigrants. Reports of repeated violations of the detainees’ constitutional rights by immigration authorities has already prompted an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. “We are deeply concerned by reports that workers at the factory where the raid occurred were segregated by race or ethnicity and interrogated, the factory was locked down for several hours, workers were denied access to counsel, and ICE failed to inform family members and lawyers following the raid where the workers were being jailed,” said Mínica Ramírez, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who traveled to Mississippi. As the Democratic convention was getting off the ground in Denver, it was business as usual for ICE, which proudly declared the Mississippi raid – in which nearly 600 alleged undocumented immigrants were arrested – the largest in the country’s history. Ironically, the company raided by ICE in Mississippi had joined last year the E-verify work eligibility system that has been widely criticized for its inaccuracy. This, together with ICE’s inability to shield participating businesses from devastating raids, is a surefire way of increasing discrimination against foreign-born workers even if they are legal residents or naturalized citizens. The Laurel immigrants, arrested while working at the Howard Industries electric transformer plant, were transported to a federal immigration prison in Jena, La., some 200 miles from their homes and families. “Churches, legal services groups and humanitarian organizations have already sprung into action to address the human costs in terms of children left without a parent, breadwinners plucked from their jobs, limited access to lawyers and truncated due process for detainees,” said Douglas Rivlin, the communications director of the National Immigration Forum. Before Laurel, the largest raid had taken place on May 12 in Postville, Iowa, another small town, when federal immigration officials took almost 400 workers from Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant. “We didn’t need this. It literally blew our town away,” the mayor of Postville, Robert Penrod, said at the time. One has to wonder – especially in the current depressed economy – how many more towns will be blown away by ICE raids and how much longer Washington will keep up its practice of going after workers but not employers. Hope, though, could be on the horizon. Barack Obama included immigrants in his promise of change during a July 13 speech to the National Council of La Raza. “When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it,” Obama said with customary eloquence. And we add: When work becomes a crime and Washington tries to cover up its failure to solve the immigration crisis with harsh police state tactics, it is very important that Barack Obama, if elected, be reminded of his eloquent words.