National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Hurricane ICE Blows into Mississippi

August 27, 2008

Washington, DC – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conducting a large scale raid or raids this week in Laurel, Mississippi, reportedly detaining 350 people so far, just a few days after ending “Operation Scheduled Departure,” a program designed to highlight ICE’s humanitarian side.  The following is a statement by Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington.

As the rains of what remains of tropical storm Fay pelted Mississippi from the heavens, ICE was on the ground in full battle gear unleashing a man-made disaster on another small town’s workers and families. Churches, legal services groups, and humanitarian organizations have already sprung into action to address the human costs in terms of children left without a parent, breadwinners plucked from their jobs, limited access to lawyers and truncated due process for detainees.

This is just the latest man-made disaster visited upon immigrant families and the communities in which they live.  Earlier this year, Postville, Iowa, was the target, with reportedly the largest raid in U.S. history.  As the Mayor of Postville, Robert Penrod, said at the time, “We didn’t need this.  It literally blew our town away.”

Unlike a natural disaster, this disaster is entirely preventable.  If immigrants realistically had access to legal immigration, many of the people suspected of working illegally in Mississippi could have done so with the rights and responsibilities of legal immigrants and citizens.  This would have been a benefit to the individual immigrant families, to be sure, but also to their fellow workers who would be in a better position to stand united for better wages, working conditions, and uniform and vigorous application of federal labor laws. 

We need a modern immigration system that people choose to go through rather than around.  Implementing enforceable and sensible laws should be the goal and both political parties need to get back to the agenda of updating our immigration system.  Targeting hundreds of workers, but not employers, and disrupting community after community is unsustainable, especially as our economy weakens.  At the end of the day, regardless of how many people ICE sweeps up, we will be no closer to actually addressing what is wrong with our current legal immigration system, the disposition of undocumented immigrants, and realistic ways for employers and employees to have an even, competitive playing field.

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