The Human Costs of Immigration Raids
In recent months there has been a notable increase in the number and size of raids against illegal immigrants and the businesses that employ them. The Department of Homeland Security, home of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, (or ICE, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service) has now shifted their emphasis from stopping illegal immigrants as they cross the border to rounding them up and arresting them at their workplaces.
I can understand the need to enforce existing laws against hiring illegal immigrants, although I think there are better ways to address the larger issue of reducing illegal immigration. However, many people fail to realize that families are being torn apart and their lives are being put at risk as a result of such raids. The New York Times reports of babies being ripped from their mothers’ arms and separated indefinitely, as was the case of a Honduran family in Ohio:
Ms. Umanzor had been at home with two of her three children, both American citizens, when the immigration agents arrived, along with a county police officer. . . As the agents searched, Ms. Umanzor breast-fed her jittery baby, she recalled in an interview after her release.
She was forced to leave both Brittney and her other American daughter, Alexandra, who is 3, since the agents could not detain them. “Just thinking that I was going to leave my little girl, I began to feel sick,” Ms. Umanzor said of the baby. “I had a pain in my heart.”
In jail and unable to nurse, Ms. Umanzor’s breasts become painfully engorged. With the help of Veronica Dahlberg, director of a Hispanic women’s group in Ashtabula County, a breast pump was delivered on her third day in jail. Brittney, meanwhile, did not eat for three days, refusing to take formula from a bottle, Ms. Dahlberg said. After four days, the county released all six children to Ms. Umanzor’s sister, who managed to wean Brittney to a bottle.
On Nov. 7, after two dozen women’s health advocates and researchers sent a letter protesting Ms. Umanzor’s detention, Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, issued a memorandum instructing field officers “to exercise discretion” during arrests by releasing nursing mothers from detention unless they presented a national security or public safety risk.
In a study released this month, La Raza, a national Hispanic organization, and the Urban Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan research organization, examined three factory raids in the past year, in Greeley, Colorado, Grand Island, Nebraska; and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The study found that . . . many families hid for days or longer in their homes, sometimes retreating to basements. Although many children showed symptoms of emotional distress, family members were reluctant to seek public assistance for them, even if the children were citizens, fearing new arrests of relatives who were illegal immigrants.
As the article also notes, federal immigration officials and opponents of illegal immigration argue that while their goal is not to victimize children. They contend that illegal immigrant parents are responsible for putting their children in these dangerous and emotionally upsetting situations,.
Unfortunately, this kind of reasoning is a textbook example of what sociologists call "blaming the victim."
Yes, it’s true---that because these parents came into the U.S. without authorization, they are here illegally. But as scholars and other informed observers will tell you, the vast majority of border-crossers come here not because they want to sponge off the welfare system or steal a middle-class job, but because they want to try to earn a decent living by working in jobs that most Americans will not take.
In other words, illegal immigrants come here to work. Once they are inside the U.S., data also show that the vast majority of them obey the laws and pay taxes -- sales taxes, property taxes, and even federal and state income taxes that are estimated to contribute $60 billion a year to Social Security funds. It's also worth noting that because illegal immigrants often use fake Social Security numbers, FICA taxes get taken out but those retirement benefits will most likely never go to the illegal immigrants who paid into the system.
More often than not, the presence of illegal immigrants actually results in net benefits to American society. And how do we as a society treat them as a result? By vilifying, demonizing, and dehumanizing them. And by literally tearing families apart and needlessly putting lives at risk.
As the article notes, even the Department of Homeland Security has come to its senses, recognized the inherent brutality and inhumanity in their actions, and reevaluated its tactic of separating mothers from their young children.
I'm not a legal scholar, but I might describe what happened to families like the Umanzors as cruel and unusual punishment, perhaps even torture.
There must be a better way to address the problems associated with illegal immigration than to treat them like animals.
That better way is to enact comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the issue on all levels -- stricter enforcement of laws against knowingly hiring illegal workers, creating some legal arrangement to allow temporary workers to come and work in the U.S., giving law-abiding illegal immigrants the opportunity to become citizens and continue their contributions to American society, and efforts to strengthen foreign economies to reduce the push factors that drive many to leave for the U.S., to name just a few.
But to focus the brunt of our country's resources on forcibly separating families and exacting incalculable human costs and suffering is nothing short of barbarism.