Committee Hearing on Immigration (Part 1)

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss the increasingly frequent immigration and customs raids - specifically the largest raid in history, which occurred in Postville, Iowa this past May. Committee members heard from a number of panels and the hearing lasted virtually all day. I attended the first half of the hearing, which was standing room only; a testament to the high interest in the immigration debate, that seems to be approaching a critical mass.

The committee hearing was spurred by the tell-all report, released by Dr. Erik Camayd-Frexais earlier this month and featured in a recent front-page NY Times article. Dr. Camayd-Frexais, a federally contracted interpreter with years of experience, denounced the "fast-tracking" of the legal proceedings following the raid, the excessive use of force by ICE agents and the denial of the "bill of rights and democractic values threatened by the breakdown of checks and balances".

Representatives from the Department of Justice defended the legal process following the raids, stating that the choice to "fast-track" detainees was somehow a humanitarian show of compassion.

Committee member Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) strongly disagreed with this version of the Postville legal proceedings. He pointed out, various times, that immigrants, many of whom did not understand the charges against them, were pressured and intimidated into signing plea agreements, without adequate legal counsel.

Representatives from other districts across the country testified to the effects of the SWAT team style raids on their communities.

Especially poignant was Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (CA) describing the traumatic affects the raids in San Rafael, CA had on the children in the community. Teachers rode buses home with students, to ensure they didn't go home to empty houses. Hundreds of children missed school for weeks at a time. She told the story of one small child, who was instructed by her mother to pack a backpack of essentials to leave by the front door of the house at all times and was told if she came home and nobody was there, she should take the backpack and go to her aunt's house. "Can you imagine?" asked Woolsey, "Can you imagine what that small child must have felt?"

Despite the passionate testimony of various panelists, many committee members seemed un-moved on their position that undocumented workers are "illegal aliens" who are "displacing Americans" who might otherwise be employed in the same positions the immigrants occupy.

Specifically telling was the minority committee members' insistence that undocumented immigrants were taking the jobs of "African American males ages 18 to 35". This statistic, rattled off various times, seemed so disconnected from the reality of what's happening in our country that I became angrier each time it was spoken out loud.

Do I think these Representatives actually care of the communities of people of color? The honest answer is no. I think they care about somehow supporting their "enforcement only" policy in order to continue with what they see as "legal" law enforcement efforts. Meanwhile, families continue to be torn assunder, communities devastated and children abandoned.

As Gutierrez (IL) pointed out, undocumented immigrants, unlike the big businesses that continue to employ them, have no power, they have no Political Action Committees or well-paid lobbyists who can influence lawmakers. So working people, people who are struggling to survive, continue to be raided, arrested and shuffled through our "justice" system, so that our administration can tell people they are "doing something" about immigration.

The truth is, they are doing something that will be looked back upon with shame. They are doing something that contradicts the founding principles of liberty and justice for all.