Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Unintended Cost of American Immigration Policy

The detention of more than 300 undocumented workers at a New Bedford, Mass., factory earlier this month was the latest in a series of high-profile raids in the federal government's ongoing efforts to curb undocumented immigration into the United States. The raid left dozens of children stranded at school or with their caretakers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] quickly transported more than 200 of the factory workers to detention centers in New Mexico and Texas. Mothers were, in many cases, unable to speak with their children and published reports even indicate one baby who was breast-feeding was hospitalized for dehydration after authorities took her mother into custody.

This latest raid demonstrates yet again the unnecessary human suffering the federal government's continued purge of undocumented immigrants has inflicted on families in this country. Children, many of whom were born in the United States and are American citizens, remain victims of a policy motivated by xenophobic officials who continue to place their own political and personal objectives over the basic humanity and dignity of those who are most directly impacted. Case in point; the Los Angeles Times reported last month on the plight of 9-year-old Khadijah Bessuges and her father Sebastien [www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-immig10feb10,0,3154088.story?coll=la-home-nation]. The two are currently detained in an 8-by-15 foot cell at the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. Khadijah and her father were placed into custody in Phoenix a day after Bessuges visited a federal immigration center to extend his visa. This family is part of the Department of Homeland Security's most recent plan to detain undocumented immigrants until their cases go before a judge.

These camps are symbolic of the strong tide of anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against non-White and non-English speaking people, that continues to manifest itself in federal and state governmental policy. Proponents of these policies continue to justify these crackdowns as a necessary tool to protect the United States from terrorists and future terrorist attacks. Terrorists? Do Khadijah Bessuges and her father really constitute a threat to national security? Are the more than 300 factory workers detained in New Bedford, who made vests and backpacks for U.S. military personnel [abcnews.go.com/Business/print?id=2942118], really terrorists? Most likely not, but these raids continue to deny these people and their families their basic humanity and dignity that this country repeatedly claims to export to countries around the world.

There is certainly no easy answer to remedy this unfortunate situation. But Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Ali Noorani sums it up best in a recent interview with the Associated Press. Noorani told the news agency "As a country, we should not put our youngest citizens at risk of hunger, homelessness and living without parents." Indeed. This country can certainly do much better.

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