War on terror fosters US anti-immigrant hysteria

Immigration MarchA recent series of raids by the US Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service signals a new era of anti-immigrant hysteria in America.

In September in the New York City suburb of Nassau County, ICE undertook a massive raid to capture gang members. It declared the raids a success, claiming that of the 186 arrested, 157 were gang members or associates.

However, county executive Thomas Suozzi denounced the raid, insisting that only 'eight were active gang members and one is a gang associate'. He added, 'The result was that many wrong residential addresses were raided, and in one instance, ICE sought a 28-year-old defendant using a photograph taken when he was [a] seven-year-old boy.'

Not only were American citizens and legal residents picked up, but in one case, a house was searched for a man who had moved out in 2003. The family living there were US citizens, except for a child who was a legal resident awaiting naturalisation. Suozzi, joined by county police commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, is calling for a federal investigation of the raid.

This raid was but the latest in a series of ICE anti-immigrant actions taking place throughout the US during the last couple of months. Federal agents picked up 51 workers at an Iowa egg farm. In Reno, Nevada, upwards of 100 suspected illegal workers were arrested in raids at McDonald's restaurants. Agents raided meatpacking plants, egg farms and a leather factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. And in the San Francisco area, ICE agents were spotted prowling for undocumented immigrants at East Bay supermarkets, day-labourer sites, Home Depot and Wal-Mart outlets and even public libraries and schools.

Even more disturbing, in New Haven, Connecticut, two days after the city approved ID cards for undocumented residents, an ICE raid resulted in the arrest of at least 29 workers. Although denied by ICE, many residents insist the raid was as a punitive action — a reprisal for the city's commitment to civil liberties.

Estimates vary as to the size of the undocumented immigrant population in America. Extrapolating from US Census Bureau data, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that as of 2006 there were 11.5 to 12 million non-documented foreigners residing in the country, two-thirds of whom have been in the US for ten years or less. Pew estimates 7 million of these immigrants were employed, making up five per cent of the US civilian labour force, and that immigrant workers make up a significant share of some key industries, including farming (24 per cent), cleaning services (17 per cent), construction (14 per cent) and food preparation (12 per cent).

The raids are part of an intensified anti-immigrant upsurge spreading throughout the US. The anti-immigrant sentiment is rationalised by a false association of undocumented immigrants with the war on terror. In the wake of September 11, the Bush administration has waved the flag of terror to justify invading Iraq, suspend habeas corpus and engage in unwarranted eavesdropping.

The anti-immigrant upsurge finds its voice in a growing chorus of inflammatory commentators not only in newspaper columns and conservative webfsites, but also on the Fox News channel and, most notably, CNN's prime time program, Lou Dobbs Tonight. The rising anti-immigrant sentiment comes on the heels of Congress' failed efforts to pass Bush-administration backed legislation to address immigration — and the earlier mass mobilisations that took place throughout the country in opposition to the anti-immigrant bills.

Nevertheless, the raids raised considerable concern throughout the country. David Leopold, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association's task force on ICE raids, railed against them. 'This new policy of immigration reform by law enforcement is going to wreak havoc on our communities [and] our economy,' he said. Others warn that ICE agents illegally detain, search and harass Latin-looking people due to their appearance, thus violating various US Constitutional rights.

Many others, including representatives from organised labour, immigrant-rights groups, antiwar organisations, African-American, Latino and religious groups have called for an end to these raids.

One of the little-discussed consequences of ICE raids is their economic implications. For example, in the wake of the raids at meatpacking plants, James Mintert, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University, warned 'continued massive immigration raids would cut cattle prices paid to cattle feeders and cattle producers while raising the cost of beef for consumers'.

Similarly, farmers in upstate New York blame a growing immigrant farm labour shortage on a dramatic rise in immigration enforcement. What happens to meatpacking and agriculture will likely happen to other labour-intensive industries, like the hotel industry, the construction industry and the food-services industry.

Change to Win, a coalition of seven unions representing six million organised workers, condemned ICE actions. Responding to a raid on the homes of workers at a North Carolina meatpacking plant, it declared: 'It becomes clearer every day that the Bush administration has decided that pleasing its base with acts of political theater is more important than finding a real solution on immigration. And the human cost of that decision becomes clearer every day as well.'

ICE raids of alleged undocumented immigrants are likely to increase as the country readies for the election. These raids will serve two purposes. One is legal, to apprehend undocumented foreigners. The other, however, is far more questionable. Under Bush-administration direction, these raids will serve the political purpose of inflaming anti-immigrant xenophobia. Whether such a nationalistic, anti-immigrant fear campaign will be strong enough to affect the election outcome remains to be seen.

David RosenDavid Rosen is an author and commentator based in New York City.




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Existing comments

This happened months ago, so why dredge this up again. At the time that it happen we quickly figured out that Suozzi and Mulvey are clueless as to what goes on under their watch. Also why can't the media figure out that the majority of US citizens are not anti-immigrant but we are ANTI-ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT. These raids are just the beginning of the enforcement of US Laws that have been ignored for the past 20 years. If you keep your head buried in the sand you continue to be part of the problem.
mcmorty | 29 November 2007

Thank you for the article. You are absolutely right on that.
Jeff | 29 November 2007

The free ride is over. Time for enforcement. America does not want to get to the stage of French riots.

edla67 | 29 November 2007

Although these anti-immigration raids are conducted in the name of all that is holy, they are actually fueled by an anti-immigrant hatred that has arisen astonishingly rapidly in America. We know that these people somehow manage to live on less income than the rest of us do. Not only that, they manage to send back to their families in their homelands, billions of dollars annually. And although they demonstrate such industry, thrift, and devotion to family, instead of finding a way for them to work here legally, we blame all of our social ills on them. We view them primarily as law-breakers, rather than as hard workers; and this distortion will, in the end, cost us dearly. It's already cost us - we've become a bunch of thugs.
Brent | 18 December 2007


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