AMERICA/UNITED STATES - Rights being denied to illegal immigrants

Washington (Agenzia Fides) – In the midst of an imposing economic crisis and with the election campaign in full swing, the United States is having to face several internal political emergencies as well. Delicate issues include that of immigration and “national security,” which are on the agenda for both Presidential candidates.
In spite of stricter regulations imposed by various presidential administrations, beginning with that of Clinton, there continues to be a steady flow of illegal entries, mainly from Mexico, which has not desisted and is causing an internal short-circuiting of immigration policies. In fact, the number of immigrants is not decreasing mainly due to the fact that almost all who enter illegally find jobs, something which encourages new immigrants to come.
Another factor is that it is almost impossible to legally immigrate to the USA, as paradoxically enough, the number of accepted entries in the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which depends from the Department of Homeland Security, does not reflect the actual level of employment demand in the country. In addition, the situation is worsened by the endless waiting lists that require up to 10-years’ time in order for an entire family to be reunited.
Employment opportunity is the main reason for which people leave their country in search of a better life. However, if the country of their destination does not have employment laws where immigration is taken into account, the results can be disastrous for all those involved. The fear and insecurity in which these people live often makes them subject to harsh treatment, victims of those who take advantage to deceive and exploit them. In the United States, an illegal immigrant will usually look for work in low-cost areas like construction, agriculture, assistance to the sick and elderly, working in someone’s home, and most likely, in the many factories distributed throughout the nation that tend to hire illegal immigrants, in some cases even minors.
These situations occur mainly in the areas along the border, where there are traffickers and contractors who recruit personnel to work in their factories or agricultural businesses. The illegal immigrants are “taken in” to work for very little pay and in inhumane circumstances, forcing them to stay with the cost of the trip they have had to pay in reaching the States. To oblige them to pay the debt, they take away their official documentation until they pay back all the money, something that guarantees a longer stay for them, as the pay is so low. These immigrants live for long periods of time in very small spaces, in “colonies” that lack all basic services, in inhumane living conditions, forced to work over 12 hours a day without any kind of respect for the security regulations or the fundamental rights of the human person.
Only a blind hypocrisy as to immigration laws could deny the evidence of such abuses and violations. And yet, on June 28, 2007, the US Senate vetoed a bill approved by Congress (and which was later completely rejected) calling for a reform on immigration regulations and that, among other things, would have permitted the legalization of 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the USA.
The tendency with the immigration issue, as a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) points out, is that of looking only for a policy of “national security,” which increases spending on border control and turns a blind eye to workplace conditions of immigrants, and makes no effort in promoting a renewal of the system which could allow for a controlled legal immigration.
Likewise, in the last two years, the ICE has authorized and carried out control operations in several factories in the country, in an effort to identify, arrest, and deport illegal employees.
As Fides was told by Kevin Appleby, Director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy for the USCCB, “throughout the country there are businesses known for using illegal immigrants, however the control operations that have begun taking place are extremely alarming, as when the workers are deported, no one thinks of the impact it has on their family, their children, the community” and once again the dignity of these men and women is violated. The business managers, normally US citizens, run the risk of ending up in jail for up to 20 years, in addition to other fines (up to 10,000 dollars per illegal employee), “although it is still not clear to what point these penalties are being applied,” Appleby explained.
The USCCB representative cited one of the government’s recently authorized operations, as an example. On March 6, 2007, hundreds of ICE agents, accompanied by search dogs, arrived in helicopter, to break into a leather factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts where they made briefcases and backpacks, as well as other leather goods, for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the event, 360 illegal immigrants were arrested, including several women from Guatemala and other Central American nations.
As was later revealed in interviews, the employees had been working in slave-like conditions, with restrictions as to when they could use the restroom, the use of toilet paper, break times, and even on when they were permitted to speak amongst themselves. The agents handcuffed them, questioned them, and then sent them to detention centers in New Mexico and Texas, without any legal assistance or the least concern for their communities or families, even in cases of parents with children born in the United States, who could therefore be considered American citizens.
The USCCB wrote a letter to the heads of the DHS, asking that legal protocol be respected, to assure that children not be separated from their parents and so that the parents could care for them, especially in their basic needs, such as in the case of breastfeeding. They also asked that the government offer each of those detained a lawyer. The Bishops also asked that Churches, social services, and schools not be subject to such invasive operations.
However, amidst the confusion, families and communities have been separated. In some cases, children have been left with relatives or even non-relatives. Despite statements from ICE workers, some mothers who were breastfeeding their children have been deported, whether it be a bureaucratic error or simply an overlooked fact.
Among the paradoxes in the situation, the company in question had a 200 million- dollar contract with the Department of Defense, which is why the Pentagon had established an office in the building for quality control, with an inspector on duty always, which would have made it almost impossible to overlook the events taking place in the company and who its employees were. (FM) (Agenzia Fides 16/9/2008)

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