Operation Tarmac terrorizes families

CHICAGO – About a hundred protesters of all races chanted and sang at a departure pavilion of the world’s busiest airport, O’Hare International, Dec. 30. Illinois Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues, Pueblo sin Fronteras and others organized the protest in response to an anti-immigrant operation at both this and Midway Airport.

Called “Operation Tarmac,” a bewildering array of federal agencies swooped down on airport workers and on their homes, Dec. 10. Cooperating enforcers included an alphabet soup of agencies: the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, the Social Security Administration, the Transportation Safety Administration and the U.S. Marshals’ Service. They were looking for people who had supposedly falsified information to get airport jobs, saying this “represents a risk of terrorism.”

Who they managed to grab was 25 undocumented Mexican immigrants, with about 500 others suspended from their jobs pending further investigation.

At a Dec. 18 press conference Elisabeth Alvarado, a cousin of one of the arrested workers, described the ordeal the family was put through. Six federal agents came to the worker’s home, evidently without a warrant, and ransacked the place after being let in by a child. They interrogated the children, ages 8 to 11. An uncle, a legal resident of the U.S., showed up and asked the agents what they wanted. They told him that he was wanted on a warrant and grabbed him. Subsequently, the uncle was told that his arrest had been a case of mistaken identity, but the feds dropped him off 50 miles away, without his wallet or any money to get home.

The U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, boasted that these people were arrested “as a lesson” to others who might falsify Social Security numbers or other information in order to work in U.S. airports. He threatened felony prosecutions, in addition to deportation, and is keeping some under exorbitant bonds.

Immigrant rights organizations pointed out that none of the workers were connected with terrorism, and the jobs they held were not even sensitive ones.

Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, denounced the raids and demanded an end to them, along with dropping the charges and suspending deportation.

Reverend Walter Coleman of the Adalberto United Methodist Church accused President Bush and his advisors of concocting repressive actions to distract public attention away from the administration’s failures.

Emma Lozano, president of Sin Fronteras, said “none of us are any safer because the FBI comes and roughs up immigrant workers.” Father Brendan Curran, a priest at St. Pius Roman Catholic Church, accused the government of “abusive and unconstitutional” tactics, and warned that there can be “no homeland security without the legalization” of undocumented workers.

A delegation of community and religious activists met with INS Midwest Regional Director Brian Perryman, but received only vague answers about handling it on a “case by case” basis.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org