Immigration raids and the national conscience.

The letter below was sent by my friend Jim Blandy to the governor of Oregon, Jim’s state. In it, Jim asks what Oregon can do to avoid a disaster like the recent group deportation of immigrants in Massachusetts that resulted in children being abandoned, as described on National Public Radio and in the Boston Globe.

Before I say more, please read Jim’s letter:

From: Jim Blandy
Subject: Abandoned children
To: [a mailing list we're on]
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2007 21:53:37 -0800

Folks, I'd never use [this mailing list] for campaigning, but I think
this goes far beyond politics, and well into the territory of national
disgrace.  I've sent the following letter to Oregon governor Ted
Kulongoski; please read the articles I've linked to, and think of
*something* you can do.  If abandoning 7-month old children doesn't
move us to more than a sophisticated sigh about how far things have
gone, we don't deserve a decent country.


Dear Governor Kulongoski,

NPR's March 8th Morning edition and the March 9th Boston Globe
reported on an egregious and shameful dereliction of our
responsibility to the most helpless in our country: a Massachusetts
factory was raided on March 6th, and scores of workers accused of
being in the United States illegally were flown to a Texas detention
center before state authorities could determine whether there was
anyone able to take care of their children.  According to the Globe:

 Two young children were hospitalized yesterday for dehydration after
 their nursing mothers were taken away, state officials said.
 Another 7-year-old girl called a state hot line seeking her detained
 mother.  It was unclear last night where their mothers were.

I can't express how angry and ashamed this news makes me.  Let us
assume all of the people transported to Texas were indeed in the
U.S. illegally; there is no imaginable justification for abandoning
their children in this way.  When we imprison a murderer who is a sole
caregiver, we take better care of their dependents than this.  There
is simply no legitimate law enforcement need that could justify such

I have three questions:

- Oregon has its share of illegal immigrants.  I am firmly in favor of
 enforcing the laws that our state and national legislative bodies
 have agreed on.  What assurance can you give me that a disgrace of
 the sort occurring now in Massachusetts will not happen in Oregon?

- Who is responsible for ensuring, when a sole caregiver is found to
 be residing in Oregon illegally, that the children they care for
 will be taken care of appropriately?

- What is that responsible party's position on the Massachusetts raid?
 Do they feel it was properly conducted?  If so, would they do the
 same here?  If not, what steps have they taken to ensure this will
 not happen again?

I understand that the Department of Homeland Security conducts
immigration raids, and that the DHS is a federal department, not
controlled by the state of Oregon.  But if a debacle like this were to
occur here, Oregonians would hardly be satisfied to hear that there
was nothing to be done, and from what I have read of you, I do not
believe you would offer such an explanation.

Jim Blandy

[URLs given here]

Bravo for Jim — we should all ask the questions he’s asking. What Governor Kulongoski probably won’t say in reply is that this is how our immigration system is supposed to work. The whole point is to have a large number of people around willing to labor at low wages, but unable to be involved in civic affairs. Solution: make them officially illegal, but unofficially tolerated, as long as they don’t raise too much of a fuss — and brutally deport a few now and then to make sure they stay in line.

I’ll bet African Americans recognize this pattern pretty well.

Am I too cynical? Ask yourself this question: why don’t we simply crack down on businesses that employ illegal workers? After all, if we wanted to end illegal immigration in this country, we could do it in two seconds. Illegal immigrants aren’t exactly hard to find. Just go to every restaurant, farm, landscaping company, etc, in your precinct, and start fining the employers. That would end the “problem” pretty quickly, wouldn’t it?

But no, instead we harass and hound the immigrants. We talk, incredibly, of building a seven-hundred mile fence along our border to keep them out, as though they’re not right here next to us the whole time, busing our tables, picking our fruit, cutting our lawns. This is just the American way, apparently: bully the weak, before doing anything that might annoy businesses or put upward pressure on wages.

I don’t think what happened in Massachusetts was some sort of one-time exception. Perhaps it was unusually cruel… but more likely it was just unusually publicized. Here’s another raid that made it into the press: Lockdown in Greeley, excellently reported on by Marc Cooper in The Nation.

How many times must this happen before we admit what we’re doing?


  1. That is one of the risks that you take when you enter into illegal activity as a parent. That you will be detained and no one will be left to care for your kids. The standard is really no different for an American Citizen who breaks the law. Their kids go to their immediate relatives or to DSS.

    One could argue that this is a deterrent against heads of households committing crimes.

  2. One could argue that, if one thought the issue were about legal theory.

    The question is not whether illegal immigration is illegal. By definition it is, of course. The question is: why do we choose to enforce the law in this particularly selective way, a way that encourages the immigrants to stay and work the hard jobs, but discourages them from participation in civic life?

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