The divisions couldn’t have been any clearer as immigrants’ advocates and critics of illegal immigration seized on last week’s federal raid in New Bedford.
To the advocates, the way in which the bust separated children from parents and caretakers was cruel, excessive, and far harsher than the treatment afforded the employer who is alleged to have enforced sweatshop-like conditions. Critics, who delighted in the clampdown, questioned why the other side can’t comprehend that illegal immigration is a crime in and of itself.
The irony is that both sides bring opposite viewpoints, yet basically agree on how the federal government’s immigration policy clearly isn’t working.
The government’s previously lax approach, the vital role played by undocumented immigrants in the US labor pool (often doing work that citizens are unwilling to take up), and years of past civil strife in Guatemala and El Salvador help to explain the presence of an estimated 11 million residents who aren’t American citizens.
“Unlawful employment is a powerful magnet driving illegal immigration,” Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement following last week’s raid. “Egregious hiring practices, widespread use of fraudulent documents, and blatant disregard for the rule of law made this case a priority for ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Yet it remains to be seen whether this case will be successful in sending a broad message not to employ undocumented workers. The controversial raid has prompted calls for a congressional investigative, produced a sympathetic response from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and US Senator Ted Kennedy, among others, and galvanized immigrants and their supporters.
In a statement addressed to Kennedy and fellow Senators John Kerry and Jack Reed, Providence-based advocate Julio Cesar Aragon wrote, “These actions do not make us feel any safer or stronger as a nation.” His letter called for the immediate release of the detainees, the provision to them of legal representation, and a moratorium on future raids.
The immigration topic, besides offering a focus of polarization, remains a jumping off point for a lot of dubious information — like one talk-radio caller who blamed illegal workers for the government’s poor treatment of Iraq war veterans.
Yet Miguel Sanchez-Hartwein, executive director of the Providence-based Center for Hispanic Policy & Advocacy (CHISPA), seems closer to the mark when he notes how raids like the one in New Bedford are taking the place of a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. He also makes the point that while Latinos are the largest group of undocumented immigrants, other such individuals never seem to be targeted in enforcement efforts.
While some elected officials have talked for years about creating a pathway to citizenship, he says, the situation remains unchanged. Instead of arresting people, Sanchez-Hartwein says, the government should pursue a better policy.
: This Just In
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