Immigration's Katrina?

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Thanks to Potter for pitching this show.

On Sunday afternoon, in the basement of Our Lady of Guadalupe in New Bedford, I saw first-hand the pain and suffering of the families and community ripped apart by the actions of the Department of Homeland Security . . . Wives were desperately searching for information about their husbands. One father tearfully described the agony and sleeplessness of his young children who couldn’t understand why their mother had disappeared. Shock, confusion and despair were the order of the day. I was reminded of the tragedy and human suffering that we all witnessed after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Such human tragedy is heartbreaking when it is caused by a natural disaster. But when it is the product of a government agency’s failures, it is utterly unconscionable.

Senator Edward Kennedy, in an Op-ed in The New Bedford Standard Times, March 13, 2007.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts last week, arresting 361 illegal immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador and sending over 200 of them to detention centers in Texas en route to deportation. For ICE, this raid was standard operating procedure. A year ago, it arrested over 1000 illegal employees of a pallet factory, and in December it collared more than 1200 workers at a meatpacking company.

Boston immigration rally

Suddenly a Massachusetts issue? [andycarvin / Flickr]

But for Massachusetts, the New Bedford raid is becoming a scandal. Maybe it’s because the workers were denied overtime, docked 15 minutes of pay for every minute they were late and fined for talking on the job, of for spening more than two minutes in the plant’s bathroom. Maybe it’s because the wealthy owner of the factory posted bail and reopened its doors on the same day that his workers were being deported. Maybe it’s because the illegal immigrants had been hard at work manufacturing products for the US military and high-end retailers like Coach. Or maybe it’s because the Feds split up families, sending mothers to Texas and children to Miami.. Whatever the reason, ICE’s routine raid has become a PR nightmare for the embattled agency.

Two days after the raid, a judge ordered ICE to cease processing the detainees out of state and demanded that the agency ensure that all children were protected. Since that order, local politicians, social service organizations, and advocacy groups have pounded ICE, accusing it of everything from being “inept” to “misrepresenting reality” to causing an “humanitarian crisis“.

Since we’re based in Massachusetts, it seems to us as if the roof is falling in on our immigration system. How is it that a factory employing nearly 500 people could set up shop and hire illegals and exploit them in an American city that has high unemployment, high poverty and high dropout rates? Why not move the factory to Mexico (or Guatemala) to take advantage of low wages? The situation in New Bedford is representative of the symbiotic, co-dependent relationship between employers and illegal immigrants on all levels of American society. Will the New Bedford raid be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of our country’s immigration crisis, or is this just business as usual?

What about you? Do you run a local business? What compromises do find yourself having to make when hiring? Have you been on the other side of the equation, working alonside illegal immigrants in less than ideal working conditions?

Barney Frank

U.S. Representative, D-MA

Jack Spillane

Columnist, New Bedford Standard-Times

Helena Marques

Executive Director, New Bedford Immigrants’ Assistance Center

Mayor Scott W.Lang

Mayor, City of New Bedford

Extra Credit Reading

Senator Edward Kennedy, A better solution – Update 2: VIDEO and AUDIO, Daily Kos, Mar 13, 2007: “The photographs of bewildered, desperate, crying children brought home the full horror of the government raid distinguished by its callousness.”(via Potter)

Casey Ross, Sweatshop Supports Luxe Life, The Boston Herald, March 11, 2007: “The accused owner of a New Bedford sweatshop has used the work of destitute illegal laborers to support a lavish suburban lifestyle that includes luxury cars, a Colonial-style home hard by a Pembroke golf course and a Palm Beach, Fla., getaway, financial records show.”

Brian R. Ballou, US judge halts the removal of more detainees from state, The Boston Globe, March 10, 2007: “Ninety people are being held in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, at the Bristol County House of Correction , the Barnstable County House of Correction , and the Wyatt Federal Detention Center in Central Falls, R.I. There are 207 detainees in Texas, with 91 at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Harlingen and 116 at the El Paso Service Processing Center.”

Eileen McNamara, State fails immigrants, The Boston Globe, MMarch 11, 2007: “But, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Patrick and Department of Social Services Commissioner Harry Spence were alerted in advance to plans to storm the factory. What responsibility then does the state bear for the mess that ensued?”

Outraged Liberal, ICE-y Hot, Massachusetts Liberal, March 15, 2007: “The circular finger pointing over the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid on a New Bedford factory — and the subsequent separation of parents from children — has gotten so confusing we may never know the truth.”

The Editors, Timeline of the New Bedford raid, The Boston Globe, March 15, 2007: “DEC. 29, 2006 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Bruce Foucart briefs incoming Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke on the planned raid.”

Manuel Roig-Franzia, A Culinary and Cultural Staple in Crisis, The Washington Post, January 27, 2007: “Mexico is in the grip of the worst tortilla crisis in its modern history. Dramatically rising international corn prices, spurred by demand for the grain-based fuel ethanol, have led to expensive tortillas.” (via tbrucia)

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