Immigration raids escalate fight over rights

Supporters of immigrant rights are reacting with anger to last week’s large-scale immigration raids, and calling for all raids and deportations to be stopped and for legislation legalizing undocumented workers to be supported.

On April 19 the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security carried out immigration raids in at least 40 towns and cities in 26 states, arresting 1,187 mostly Mexican employees of IFCO Systems North America, Inc., which makes wooden pallets used in factories and warehouses. In addition, seven supervisory employees of IFCO were indicted on felony charges of knowingly employing, housing and transporting “illegal aliens,” and face stiff punishments.

Next day, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave a gloating press conference to announce that the raids were just the beginning of a new crackdown. Earlier, ICE announced the prosecution of the owners of a restaurant chain in the Baltimore area for similar things.

The ICE announcement said the campaign would include “intensified efforts to deport criminal aliens and alien fugitives, building strong worksite enforcement and compliance programs, and uprooting the criminal infrastructure that supports illegal immigration.”

“Criminal aliens” means individuals, including legal immigrants, who, under the 1996 Illegal Immigration and Effective Death Penalty Act, are mandated to be deported because of criminal convictions. Immigration police have showed up at people’s homes and jobs decades after the original incident to deport them, in spite of their having long ago served their sentences and having a spotless police record since. Nor does it matter that the person leaves behind a broken family with U.S.-born, U.S. citizen children.

“Alien fugitives” are mostly undocumented immigrants who were arrested and given a court date, but did not show.

The government is going to use the receipt of multiple Social Security “No-Match” letters as the basis for targeting immigration raids. These are letters that the Social Security Administration sends out by the millions when a Social Security number submitted by an employer for one of their employees does not match anything in the database.

This can happen because of mistakes, but it is assumed when many such letters hit the same company, it is because many undocumented workers are employed there. In the past, the letter has told the employer merely to call the worker’s attention to the discrepancy. Many employers have fired workers because of a No-Match letter, but it has often been possible to get their jobs back through legal, union or community action. But now, if the receipt of No-Match letters will trigger a raid and perhaps prosecution of the company or its managers, companies will hasten to fire many more such workers.

Homeland Security phrased its justification for cracking down in terms of the deplorable way immigrant workers are exploited by such employers, which is hypocritical because the workers do not “benefit” from being arrested, losing their jobs and being deported.

What will happen then is predictable from past experience with workplace crackdowns. Fired immigrants won’t “go back” to their country of origin, where there are no jobs or sometimes even homes waiting. Rather, they will be forced to accept working off the books in exchange for cash, or even food and lodging.

The reaction in the immigrant communities was quick, with protests in Chicago, New York, Houston and other places. The universal opinion was that the arrests were a response to the massive immigrants’ rights marches and demonstrations of the last two months, an attempt to intimidate the immigrants and their supporters. They also may be an attempt to appease the ultra-right xenophobes in the Republican Party. Another possibility is that the raids are intended to stampede employers into lobbying Congress to approve a guest worker program.

Immigrants’ rights activists denounce the raids for pre-empting efforts in the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that well might have legalized some of the very people who have now been arrested and face deportation. Accordingly, from state Sen. Gil Cedillo in California, Pueblo Sin Fronteras in Chicago, the National Interfaith Network on Worker Justice and many others, a demand is being raised that there be a moratorium on all deportations until Congress finishes a satisfactory immigration reform bill.

Roberto Lopez of Sin Fronteras said “The national raids separated families, destroyed lives and traumatized children across the country. It is undeniable that these raids were timed by this administration to intimidate and stop a movement which has won the support of over two-thirds of the American people. Why should millions of families suffer because the political agenda of the Republican Party has prevented a solution to the immigration crisis for which they are responsible?”

On April 25, the Chicago City Council will take up a resolution denouncing the raids and demanding that they be stopped.