Friday, January 25, 2008

Should we treat undocumented immigrants humanely?

Should we treat undocumented aliens humanely? Asking this question today is akin to asking whether special privileges should be given to prisoners: 'no damnit, they should live on bread and water and break rocks, etc…' I particularly detest the use of the term "aliens" a political buzzword perfected by the Republican hate machine. Be that as it may, the so-called Department of Homeland Security is carrying out aggressive actions to round up undocumented workers. These actions take no regard for the fact that the person rounded up and deported may be the sole-breadwinner or caretaker to a family of children. Nativists have no problem with leaving a group of "illegal" children destitute and without parents. Most human beings feel otherwise. One need not be "pro-immigrant" to question whether families should be split up with the children remaining parent-less or father-less. I think most rational human beings believe that families should be accorded some level of respect or protection.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates the fear and intimidation that is taking place throughout the country.

Facing Deportation but Clinging to Life in U.S.


Published: The New York Times, January 18, 2008

WAUKEGAN, Ill. — She is a homeowner, a taxpayer, a friendly neighbor and an American citizen. Yet because she is married to an illegal immigrant, these days she feels like a fugitive. …

From Illinois to Georgia to Arizona, these families are hiding in plain sight, to avoid being detected by immigration agents and deported. They do their shopping in towns distant from home, avoid parties and do not take vacations. They stay away from ethnic stores, forgo doctor’s visits and meetings at their children’s schools, and postpone girls’ normally lavish quinceaƱeras, or 15th birthday parties.

They avoid the police, even hesitating to report crimes.

“When we leave in the morning we know we are going to work,” said Elena G., a 47-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant and Waukegan resident of eight years who works in a factory near here. “ But we don’t know if we will be coming home.”

Last year, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested more than 35,000 illegal immigrants, including unauthorized workers and immigration fugitives, more than double the number in 2006. They sent 276,912 immigrants back to their home countries, a record number.

Since about three-quarters of an estimated 11.3 million illegal immigrants nationwide are from Latin America, and many have spouses, children or other relatives who are legal immigrants and citizens, the sense of alarm has spread broadly among Hispanics.

A survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, found in December that 53 percent of Hispanics in the United States worry that they or a loved one could be deported. ….

“The raids have really spooked them in a big way,” said Douglas S. Massey, a Princeton demographer who has studied Mexican immigrants for three decades.

Based on his own surveys and recent reports from other scholars doing field research in the Southwest and in North Carolina and other states, Professor Massey said the “palpable sense of fear and of traumatization” in immigrant communities was more intense than at any other time since the mass deportations of Mexican farm workers in 1954. …

Nonetheless, for many residents fear has become a daily companion. One woman, a 37-year-old naturalized citizen who was born in Central America but grew up in Waukegan, has decided to stay away from the city even though her mother still lives here. The woman, a lawyer practicing in the Chicago area, fell in love with an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

After they were married in 2004, she realized that under immigration law it would be difficult for him to become legal, even though she is a citizen. Because he had crossed the border illegally, seeking legal status would require him to return to Guatemala for years of separation, with no guarantee of success. She abandoned plans to move back to Waukegan. She and her husband feel safer in Chicago, with its large Hispanic population.

“I know everything about Waukegan; it’s my town,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because of her husband’s status. “I know the high school, the first Mexican restaurant. I should feel free to go in and out whenever I want to. But it’s not the same freedom anymore.” …

Miriam M. and her husband, married in 2004, own a tidy house on a peaceful street and are raising four children from previous marriages, all United States citizens. He runs his own landscaping company, paying business and property taxes.

Even though Miriam M. is a citizen, it is difficult for her husband to obtain legal papers, since he entered illegally from Mexico 12 years ago. She did not focus on her husband’s illegal status when she first met him.

“Boyfriend and girlfriend, you don’t think much about it,” she said. “All right, maybe I didn’t want to think much about it.”

Now he stays close to home and avoids downtown Waukegan, driving around the city limits when he can.

Mr. Hyde and other city officials said they expected to wait several years before Congress adopted new laws to control illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the mayor said, he will do what he can by enforcing local law.

“Do I believe in closing the borders?” Mr. Hyde said. “Do I believe in putting troops down there? You bet your life. Illegal is illegal, and that’s the end of the conversation, really.”

Legislation has been introduced by Rep. Hilda Solis [D, CA-32] to mitigate the impact of the ICE raids on families. The bill entitled, Families First Immigration Enforcement Act, H. R. 3980, ( whose stated purpose is:

To provide for safe and humane policies and procedures pertaining to the arrest, detention, and processing of aliens in immigration enforcement operations.

Although the bill almost certainly has no chance of passing it is incumbent upon anyone who believes that all people should be treated humanely – most especially working families – to contact their representatives and immigrant advocates.

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