Thursday, December 14, 2006

Race and detention

There are a number of disturbing aspects of the recent Homeland Security raids intended to snare illegal immigrants at various workplaces suspected of hiring them, not the least of which, as TPM Muckracker's Justin Rood reports, is that a number of legal immigrants were caught up in the sweeps:
Cashen said that reports from all six states confirmed that legal immigrants were among those taken away, and have not been returned. "We're still trying to find out where the buses went," she said. "Children have been left at church day cares. Nobody knows where these people are."

But there is a second aspect of this that is equally disturbing: as Rood's followup report points out, racial profiling was in play during these raids:
DHS agents allegedly separated workers by their skin color -- light-skinned were considered citizens, dark-skinned got scrutiny. Predicatably, they swept up at least one dark-skinned U.S. citizen up with immigrant workers.

The Salt Lake Tribune report he cites contains a vivid illustration of what happened:
If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an "illegal alien" in her homeland -- the United States of America.

She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here [in Hyrem, Utah] on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.

The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were "cleared" or arrested by "la migra," the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.

"I was in the line because of the color of my skin," she said, her voice shaking. "They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet."

The arrest of legal immigrants and citizens is the most obvious flaw in racial profiling like this. The larger problem is that racial profiling is wrong in principle, particularly as a matter of law enforcement. It contradicts the notion of equal protection under the law, and when applied in these circumstances, it underscores the institutional racism latent within immigration law itself.

This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of racial profiling in ICE raids. Back in August, as Citizen Steve reported, the ICE performed a similar raid on a Bellingham linen firm:
The raid took place midmorning at Northwest Health Care Linen, located on Strider Loop Road just off of East Bakerview and Hannegan roads. Armed with a sealed civil search warrant, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents entered the business to question employees, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. ...

... Jim Hall, owner of Northwest Health Care Linen, said all of his 90 employees pay taxes and had completed I-9 forms. The company, which supplies linens for hospitals throughout Puget Sound, was shut down for two hours as armed agents in bulletproof vests interviewed workers, he said.

However, Hall questioned the need for Wednesday's operation. He said the agent investigating his business promised to give him a list of employees with questionable documents within 60 days. Instead, agents raided the business, which Hall described as an "extremely emotional event" that could have been avoided.

"It was just too bad that it was handled this way," he said. "It sure leaves a lot of questions for Whatcom County with what Homeland Security is doing." ...

Rosette Royale at Real Change followed up and found even more disturbing aspects of this:
Why, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Northwest Health Care Linen in Bellingham on Aug. 30, did the agency separate the Latino workers from those who were Sikh, Russian, or Southeast Asian? Why were the Latinos questioned when other workers weren't? Why were the Latinos the only ones arrested and then threatened with imminent detention?

You see, in Bellingham, many of the illegal immigrants are going to be white: a substantial portion of the immigrant population already there are Russians. As Royale notes, there are also many illegal immigrants here in this corner of the world from South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The arrests were conducted with an icy police-state response as well:
All the workers with whom she met, she says, were Latino, and they described how more than 40 ICE officers, bearing guns and wearing bulletproof vests, separated employees according to race. ICE asked whether the Latino workers were undocumented, to which, according to the employees, none of the sequestered individuals answered. When the workers asked ICE officials why they were being detained, the workers say they got no replies, only shouts to be quiet. The workers described people crying, she says, of being traumatized by the experience. When recounting their experiences, she says, the workers were crying and visibly shaken. "I cannot say enough about the wrongness of this kind of behavior [by ICE]," says Guillen.

That brings up the third, and perhaps most disturbing (in the long-term sense, anyway) aspect of these raids: Where are these people being taken?

The Bellingham detainees were taken to the ICE's Detention Center in Tacoma. Here's how that situation is playing out:
The arrestees, whatever their true number, only represent a portion of those detained in ICE's Tacoma facility, which, estimates Rose-Avila, sees 100 new people a week, some flown in from as far away as Miami. While his organization tries to inform those being detained in Tacoma of their rights, he says most enter an immigration hearing pro se, where they defend themselves, as lawyers are not provided to those with financial hardships facing immigration charges. He says, with the Northwest Detention Center considering raising its bed count from 800 to 1,000, that there are simply too many people for his organization to represent. Asks Rose-Avila: "Who's going to defend these people?"

Justin Rood's report notes:
The paper confirms that the federal agents took an undisclosed number of people away in buses away to an undisclosed location.

It's a fairly simple matter, really: When you have mass arrests, you need mass detention centers. Because every person detained, whether citizen or not, has to be processed if for no other reason than to determine their actual status. The system in place simply cannot process thousands of people dumped upon it in large numbers. Bush himself noted the problem of capacity in his immigration address last June. The end result is that housing the growing numbers of detainees backed up in the system will require more facilities.

That was the reality that the government faced in 1942 when, after deciding to evacuate the Pacific Coast of its Japanese Americans, found that -- since the governors of interior states refused to accept the evacuees except under armed guard and behind barbed wire -- the only way the program would work would be to detain the evacuees. And so they set about building mass detention centers, 10 of them, which eventually held 120,000 people.

This is where those Halliburton detention-center contracts -- the substantive concerns about which were obscured by the paranoia they provoked -- will probably come into play. It will be worth finding out whether they have already.

These are only some of the immediate consequences of pursuing the right-wing agenda of using illegal immigrants as a scapegoat for the nation's economic ills, even as they wink and nudge at the businessmen who get rich off the backs of these same workers. The nativist crowd -- Michelle Malkin, VDare, and the like -- has been demanding the government immediately detain and deport all 8 million illegal immigrants. Well, this is just a taste of what you get.

There are also other unintended consequences that are beginning to raise their heads: emptying whole towns and wiping them out. Sundering families. And all this time, you thought that conservatives were pro-community, pro-family, didn't you?

But that's just the start when we head down this road. It's time to take a look at some other roadmaps.

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