Saturday, April 05, 2008

Immigration raids impact families, communities


OTTUMWA — Removing illegal immigrants from a work site sounds like a good, simple move to some people.

For those actually involved in such a raid, it’s anything but good or simple and changes need to happen.

State agencies and officials are still sorting out the impact of the immigration raid Dec. 12, 2006, at the Swift meatpacking plant in Marshalltown, according to Sandra Sanchez.

She presented “The Impact of Immigration Raids” Friday during the Fourth annual Diversity Conference at Indian Hills Community College.

“What happened was so irregular from a legal, moral and human perspective that a national commission is doing hearings,” she said.

The raid affected not only illegal workers but also their employer, the school district, the business climate and housing opportunities.

“Employment in general was depressed,” she said.

In many families, both parents worked at the Swift plant.

“What happened to their kids who were in school or in daycare? The parents weren’t allowed to make calls and the schools didn’t know what to do with the kids,” she said.

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack guided changes so the Department of Human Services can now intervene on behalf of children. The local community helped, too, through churches and other volunteers.

“Even if it’s a raid, people have the right to a phone call and the right to legal representation,” Sanchez said. “They took the workers to Camp Dodge, which is a military facility. Lawyers and [priests] can’t get in, not even for a few hours.”

Sanchez said there was a “major change” in immigration agencies in 2003. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) used to handle immigration but was split into Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Immigrants are afraid of ICE. They won’t go to the police,” she said. “ICE can be seen as bad but people need to stay in communication with police.”

If the immigration process isn’t finished, they do have the right to send you out, she added.

CIS adjudication officers used to have a lot of discretion. For example, someone’s green card application could include “something that’s a red flag.”

“In the past, the officials would give you an appointment to discuss this. Now, more often than not, they will call ICE,” she said.
Sanchez illustrated the impact of immigration-related policies on immigrant families. She offered the example of an immigrant family living in Iowa for 13 years.

In the family, the father is a permanent resident for four years but his wife is undocumented. They have one undocumented child, age 16, and two citizen children, ages 12 and 9.

The family will need money so someone has to work. The father can but the mother and the teen can’t, and if they do, they often face low pay, no benefits, as well as risking exploitation and discrimination.

“This is negative for the entire family and eventually for the community,” Sanchez said.

Most people need a car and that means a driver’s license. The father can get a license but the mother and the teen can’t. They “can hardly get car insurance” and that’s another negative impact, Sanchez said.

As for raids and the ICE Law Enforcement, the mother and the teen could face ICE raids, incarceration and removal at any time.

Sanchez distributed a chart showing all these policies, as well as health care, education, public benefits and “unwelcoming environment and stress.”

She recommended prevention before and after a raid. Prevention could include a massive campaign of “Know Your Rights Plus” presentations, ongoing advocacy for immigration reform and ongoing education targeting voters, legislators and other potential allies.

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