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Secretary Chertoff, Call Off These Raids

Posted: 05/27/08 06:55 PM ET

Driven by the most savage talk radio and cable news anti-immigrant propaganda campaign in our nation's history, the Department of Homeland Security has unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on undocumented workers. In an effort not seen since the panic unleashed by the Great Depression, federal law enforcement has been targeting technically illegal workers who have been long tolerated in industries like meat packing, poultry processing and agriculture. In the terror created, fruit trees are being cut down and fields lie fallow, for want of traditional workers.

Many hundreds of otherwise law abiding, hard working, family men and women have been arrested in recent weeks under circumstances more appropriate to operations targeting al Qaeda. With noise and fury, these heavily armed and armored SWAT teams from ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are surrounding a particular plant, then with great quasi-military flourish sweeping in to arrest and handcuff the 'aliens', bring them en masse to a hearing, conviction and sentencing, all pending deportation. These completely overdone costume dramas are targeting cowering economic refugees just trying to feed their families. They would be ridiculed as overkill and posturing by any real soldier or cop.

And aside from every humanitarian concern, they violate ICE's own 2007 guidelines regarding the need to consult local social services and church officials, and negotiate a less violent surrender before raids of this magnitude are contemplated; given the tremendously unsettling effect the invasions have on the migrants, their millions of often U.S. citizen spouses and children, and the larger Latino community, which is the nation's largest minority and the victims of twice the hate crime this year from last.

The obscene spectacle is as pathetic and unnecessary as the raid on the Michael Bianco leather goods factory in New Bedford Massachusetts that separated nursing mothers from their children in March 2007, or the Pilgrims Pride Poultry plant raids this year incredibly staged during the pope's recent visit. Bizarrely, those raids were happening at the same moment the pope and president were emphasizing the need for immigration reform in a face-to-face Rose Garden meeting. And why the heavy hand? These are non-violent people. Their crime is almost invariably that they are here, their presence, not that they did anything wrong while they were here. Even minimal physical resistance to authority is rare. The federal government could have as easily sent in a couple of civilian garbed immigration officials and handed out summonses to report to a certain gathering spot to await detention and deportation following a hearing. The vast majority of those honest workers would have shown up without the pathetic show and without the terror gratuitously inflicted on these poor working families.

And what exactly did our heroes under the direction of Secretary Michael Chertoff accomplish? They shut down or severely crippled production at the food plants and fields and orchids, so the nation's food supply has been aversely affected. (The New Bedford plant was sewing knapsacks for our GI's). DHS/ICE has expended millions in executing these operations. They have denied the Social Security trust fund of the millions of dollars these workers were paying into accounts that they have no dream of ever redeeming, because they did not really exist. They have separated working parents from their children, many of whom are citizens. And they have denied the workers' commerce to their communities, many of which have been resurrected by the immigrant's presence in recent years.

I have previously written in His Panic, Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S. that, "any Latino who votes for a Republican or a Democrat who opposes rational immigration reform is an Uncle Tom." In view of the pending Puerto Rico Democratic primary and the island commonwealth's rare opportunity to explain itself and amplify the growing importance in the larger nation's future of the Latino vote; it is time to say to all three candidates that our votes will go to the presidential aspirant who has the courage to defy the mob and call for an immediate cessation of ICE's draconian workplace campaign. Leaving a trail of broken hearts and disrupted communities is not the way to fix America's broken immigration system.