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Immigration Service raids inhumane, rights group says

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Raids by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on work sites across the country cause enormous emotional and material “collateral damage to innocent parties. They often involve violations of the civil rights of persons detained. They fail in their stated purpose of deterring undocumented migration. Not only are they punitive and often inhumane, they are ineffective.

Such are the conclusions of a report issued Oct. 14 by the National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights, a nonprofit group based in Oakland, Calif. The report is based on documentation of 235 raids, most of which occurred at businesses, schools and homes between June 1997 and June 1998. Coauthors were the Immigration Law Enforcement Project of the American Friends Service Committee and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

In Jackson Hole, Wyo., for example, armed INS agents, joined by sheriffs’ deputies and local police, without warrants, waving guns and using profane language, swooped through hotel restaurants and laundry rooms, private dwellings and trailer courts. Rosa Parra and 152 others were taken to a parking lot. They told me to take my shoes off, everything I had in my hair and all my jewelry, Rosa later told the local newspaper. They marked us on the arm. I remember I was 101. Rosa and 49 others who were arrested and handcuffed were able to prove they were legally documented.

At least seven children were left behind without parents, according to the Jackson Hole News, and a woman who was about to give birth was left without family support. About 108 detainees spent the night on the floor of cells built to hold not more than 30. Sixteen were transported in a horse trailer that contained manure. Their employers offer to loan a company vehicle was rejected.

Eyewitness accounts of the raids reveal a pattern of hostility and meanness on the part of the INS officers that suggests they viewed the undocumented as less than human entities who could be punished without regard for legal niceties.

“The agents were driving and laughing, a detainee in Springfield, Ore., recalled. Then they said, It’s time to check our brakes. They drove fast, then slammed on the brakes. We went flying forward. The three handcuffed men in the front seat smashed their faces up against the wall. The agents did this several times. Every time we went forward or back, the handcuffs got tighter and tighter. Someone finally said, We’re just workers, not animals.’ The agent said, Shut up, you have no rights. ”

In Creswell, Ore., Alberto Sanchez was seized in a raid on a poultry-processing plant. His request to go to his locker to get his money and change out of the work clothes and boots that were covered in chicken blood and entrails was denied. He had to live in these clothes until he reached Mexico after a 4-day bus ride, part of the time on a bus on which the restroom had no door, and the toilet overflowed with feces. Each night was spent in a jail shackled to other deportees and sleeping on concrete floors without mats or blankets.

Racial bias was evident in the raid in Creswell, as in others. White workers were quickly released from the room where the INS had gathered all the employees. Workers were not allowed to retrieve documents from nearby cars or homes. Agents harassed them verbally, calling them chicken pluckers, las sucias (dirty women) and prostitutes. Several witnesses to a raid on a cafe in Bethesda, Md., testified that only Hispanic-looking employees were targeted. None of the African-American, white or Asian employees was questioned. One womans plea to call her attorney and to phone her husband to ensure that there would be someone to care for her 2-year-old U.S. citizen daughter was denied.

Although Mexicans, according to the INS estimate in its 1996 handbook, constitute less than half of the approximately 5 million immigrants living in the United States without legal status, they are a particular target of enforcement. Three out of every four aliens expelled through formal deportation proceedings are Mexicans.

This targeting of Mexicans, however, makes only minimal impact on the migratory flow of about 300,000 annually. For every 100 who leave, 115 enter the United States. This situation, the report insists, will continue until the economic, social, political and environmental conditions that drive people to migrate are addressed.

In spite of its obvious failure, the report concludes, Washington pours more money into this program each year. INS funding has more than doubled to $3.1 billion between 1993 and 1997. It continues to grow, to a requested $4.2 billion for 1999. Full-time staff similarly grew by 67 percent to 29,000 from 1993 to 1997. The 1999 budget targets $115 million for 745 new positions for interior enforcement. The INS now employs more armed agents than the FBI or any other federal agency.

Key findings of the study are that INS raids violate constitutional and civil rights, destabilize families, undermine fair wages and working conditions, and do not significantly impact migration patterns. The conclusion, signed by Franciscan Mission Service, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Pax Christi and 150 other religious and civic organizations: End immigration raids.

National Catholic Reporter, October 30, 1998