A project of the Center for Community Change

Salon.com asks- Are we placating the GOP or protecting the workplace?

It’s not often that you see a progressive blog on the ICE raids. Much of the progressive blogosphere has completely ignored the heart of the raids and detention crisis in our country. The ones that do talk about it usually treat it as a “wedge-issue” or political power play by republicans…. That is to say, they totally miss the point.

The lasting and irreversible effect of the raids on our communities remains yet to be entirely seen. But the eradication of vibrant rural economies, and the spread of extreme desperation throughout our immigrant communities does not bode well for any of us. It’s about time that progressive bloggers take note of what is happening in America’s neighborhoods. The longer we remain silent on the fear and destruction that our immigration detention complex is spreading, the harder we make our ability to fix our broken immigration system.

Check out the Aimee Molloy’s piece at Salon.com, and if you’ve seen other good blog entries around immigration from more mainstream sites, post them here!

 Placating the GOP base or protecting the workplace?

Whether or not the Bush administration’s stepped-up immigration raids are a political stunt to soothe angry Republican voters, they still carry a human price tag.

By Aimee Molloy
July 27, 2007 | NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — On the morning of March 6, 2007, swarms of armed federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, gathered in the blistering cold outside the Michael Bianco Inc. leather goods factory in New Bedford, Mass. At about 8 a.m., as a helicopter circled overhead and police kept watch in Coast Guard boats in the nearby harbor, the agents rushed the building military-style, blocked the exits, and ordered the employees to turn off their sewing machines, where most were busy stitching backpacks and vests for the U.S. military. By evening, 361 workers — mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador — had been taken into custody after they were unable to prove they had legal status to work in the United States The factory owner and three managers were also arrested and charged in connection with hiring illegal aliens.

Over the last several months, as immigration reform has been debated on Capitol Hill, massive arrest and deportation operations like this have become a key component in the enforcement of existing laws. In the first five months of 2007, 3,226 undocumented workers were arrested on the job, compared with just 485 in all of 2002. Recent raids have included an operation that netted 62 sanitation workers at an Illinois pork plant, 21 employees of a Mexican restaurant chain in Arkansas, and 31 workers at a Dallas factory that repairs Fossil watches.

Government officials says that these operations are designed to pursue employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, and to “reverse the tolerance of illegal employment and illegal immigration to the United States.” But a growing number of critics on both sides of the immigration issue argue otherwise. They view the raids — which have proven especially costly in terms of taxpayer dollars and human suffering — as a political maneuver designed primarily to make the administration appear tough on enforcement, in hopes of mollifying Republicans opposed to Bush’s recent immigration reform plan.

The bipartisan legislation favored by Bush, which eventually collapsed in the Senate in late June, included a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. This idea of granting what critics came to refer to as “amnesty” was opposed by many Republicans and was sharply, and unrelentingly, attacked by right-wing talk show radio hosts, who viewed it as a means of rewarding scofflaws. So many people opposed to the idea of amnesty sent e-mails to their representatives in Washington that the Senate’s server was twice shut down, and the phone system was flooded beyond capacity. Capturing the grass-roots GOP concern, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., declared, “Rewarding illegal immigrants with amnesty without taking adequate steps to secure our borders is the wrong way to address this problem.” It now appears doubtful that any comprehensive reform measure will be attempted prior to the 2008 elections.

It light of these sentiments, some critics argue, workplace raids became a convenient (and headline-capturing) means of appeasing critics within the Republican Party. “President Bush was at odds with his own people and had to appear as if he was doing something,” says Joe Garcia, director of the Hispanic Strategy Center of the New Democratic Network. But, he points out, it’s unrealistic to believe that such raids could ever begin to make a dent in fixing the problem. “What are they going to do? Bust into every workplace and eventually arrest 12 million people? [These raids] were, and are, pure and simple grandstanding and prove nothing except that this administration is a master of propaganda.”

“A lot of people on our side are saying the same thing,” says Roy Beck, director of NumbersUSA, an “immigrant reduction” organization opposed to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, which processed more than 2 million faxes to Congress in opposition to the Senate bill. “We believe these very public and dramatic raids were designed to create a situation where we’d come to believe President Bush will carry out enforcement, so that we would support his amnesty plan. It obviously didn’t work.”

But whatever the political motivation behind the raids, few can deny that they are coming at a great cost to immigrant communities, in more ways than one. Rarely has an operation been conducted without serious problems and mistakes, due primarily to clumsy coordination among government agencies that some find reminiscent of the handling of Hurricane Katrina, with similar repercussions on the communities affected. The New Bedford raid — where the federal government was storming the factory with one hand while writing checks to it with the other — is a prime example. Although the raid captured headlines across the country, the administration has come under fire not only because of the way it handled the workers’ detention but also because least two federal agencies had opportunities to deal with the problem of undocumented workers at Michael Bianco Inc. years earlier, and in a far less extreme manner.

MBI was founded in 1985 by Francesco Insolia. Located in a nondescript four-story building along the water in this old whaling town, the factory manufactured leather goods for brand names like Timberland and Coach. But beginning in 2002, the Social Security Administration began to notice a problem. That year, the agency sent a letter to MBI alerting it that nearly 25 percent of the payroll records they filed included Social Security numbers that were fraudulent or invalid — they belonged to people who were dead, for example, or to those who were too young to be employed. Similar letters were sent each consecutive year and by 2006, more than half of all the MBI Social Security numbers were found to be problematic. The only time the company responded was in 2005, when it resubmitted 326 records. Of those, 142 were still found to be fake or fraudulent.

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