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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 20, 2007

Written by C.N.

Human Costs of Immigration Raids

For those who haven’t noticed, in recent months, there has been a notable increase in the number and size of raids against illegal immigrants and the businesses where they work. The Homeland Security department (home of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service) have 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, what I cannot support is how families are literally being torn apart and lives at risk as a result of such raids and mass arrests against illegal immigrants. Case in point — as the New York Times reports — babies being ripped from their mothers arms and separated indefinitely:

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 the 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 with her nursing abruptly halted, 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, Ms. Myers 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 their study, released this month, La Raza, a national Hispanic organization, and the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, examined three factory raids in the past year, in Greeley, Colo.; Grand Island, Neb.; and New Bedford. . . .

The study found that . . . many families hid for days or longer in their homes, sometimes retreating to basements, the study reported. 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.

Baby Tomasa crying in the arms of her mother, taken during the New Bedford, MA immigration raid in March 2007 © Peter Pereira

As the article also notes, federal immigration officials and opponents of illegal immigration argue that while their goal is not to victimize children, ultimately it is the fault of the parents for putting their children in these situations, based on their status as illegal immigrants.

Unfortunately, this kind of reasoning is a textbook example of what sociologists call “blaming the victim.”

Yes it is true that by virtue of the fact that they came into the U.S. without authorization that they are here illegally. But as scholars and other halfway informed observers will tell you, the reasons the vast majority of border-crossers come here is not to get rich off of welfare, but to try to earn a living by working in jobs that most Americans will not accept.

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, income taxes get taken out but they will most likely never see any of those funds themselves.

The point is, the choices that illegal immigrants make, more often than not, 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 putting innocent lives at risk.

As the article notes, even the Homeland Security department has apparently come to its senses, recognized the inherent brutality and inhumanity in their actions, and reevaluated its draconian tactic of separating mothers from their young children. As a result of incidents like that described in the article, they now instruct their agents to release mothers who have young children unless they pose a direct threat to national security.

I’m not a legal scholar, but I might actually describe what happened to families like the Umanzors in the article might be classified 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.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Human Costs of Immigration Raids" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/11/human-costs-of-immigration-raids/> ().

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