BELLINGHAM, Wash. — In a terrifying early morning raid Feb. 24 here 28 workers, believed to be undocumented, were arrested at Yamato Engine Specialists by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
But in a complete turn-around from the former Bush administration policies, less than 24 hours after the incident, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a full review, making clear she did not know the raid was happening. She also made clear that the Obama administration plans to administer immigration laws by regulating unscrupulous employers and developing immigration reform, not through harsh worksite raids.
One activist commented after Napolitano’s response, “This is the change America voted for.” Activists across the country mobilized via the Internet to call and email Napolitano and President Obama to protest the paramilitary raid.
Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Bellingham-based Community to Community Development, urged continued mobilization to call for an investigation into the Bellingham raid that will result in the changes Obama and Napolitano have pledged. “We need to expand the list of people we are calling to include calls to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and [Congressional Representative Rick] Larsen,” of Washington’s 2nd Congressional District which includes Bellingham. Calls and email messages should also continue to Napolitano and Obama for a complete investigation and to stop further raids, Guillen said.
A “real investigation is needed and changes need to be made,” Guillen told the PWW in a phone interview. “Families need to be able to be in touch with their loved ones immediately, as well as attorneys. Due process needs to be followed.”
Currently family members and attorneys can be forced to wait anywhere from 36 hours to a week before being in touch with the workers in detention.
The raid conducted early last week shocked and terrified the workers and their employer, Guillen said. The workers were forced to spread their hands and stand against a wall, while being insulted, demeaned and treated with disrespect.
At the same time, the employers, a family who escaped Idi Amins’ Uganda in 1971 when the dictator began his reign of terror, were stunned at the raid. These employers have fully cooperated with immigration officials on three occasions over the past four years, according to Guillen. Workers’ documents were reviewed and every effort was made to be in compliance.
“How many other employers are under the microscope like that?” Guillen asked.
What is needed is a complex and comprehensive dialogue in our country to develop the substantial reform needed, Guillen said.
Most of the worker’s at Yamato Engine Specialists had been there for 10 years. “They had developed a community, only to be heartbroken with their loved ones yanked away from them,” and their only “crime” was “working,” she said.
Of the 28 people arrested, two have already been deported, two released for health reasons and three women released to care for their children, according to Guillen. The rest remain in the ICE detention center in Tacoma.
Community to Community Development is a woman-led, grassroots organization “working for a just society and healthy communities. They are bringing on an organizer to work on this recent attack on the community and gratefully accept any contributions of time or funds.
For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.