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Raids and Deportations Create New Terror for Immigrants and Their Families

At the beginning of April, on the steps of one of the first Franciscan missions (founded by foreigners), a foreign-born Roman Catholic Bishop complained of the treatment of his fellow immigrants. He was responding to the arrest and deportation of many immigrants, especially mothers and fathers of children.

San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Wong, born in Beijing, stated, “I don’t think the way they enforced the law is right or just or moral or tolerable, especially for children.” The Bishop has no problem with a country securing its borders, but did have a problem with human beings being treated unjustly: “If they treat human beings inhumanly, it’s not right.”

From the same Archdiocese, George Wesolek reported that the raids which arrested people randomly have created a climate of fear in Hispanic barrios. Wesolek said, “The immigrant community which works next to us, lives next to us, goes to church with us, and sends their children to our schools are in terror, and they’re living in pain.” He added. “Our immigration system is broken and we need comprehensive immigration reform at the national level now.

Fear runs through the immigrant community, which was expressed by Mary Doyle. social justice coordinator of the Oakland diocese: ‘“Will my mother be there when I get home?’ This is the question a little girl from a Catholic school asked, fearing that her family will be separated.”

Their comments came in response to a series of raids on immigrants in northern California and the manner in which they were carried out.

New War of Terror

All over the United States people are being deported every day from their work places, from their homes. These immigrants have been welcomed into the United States by employers of all kinds who want and need the workers. The press in Michigan has been reporting that parishes there have been depleted by half when so many Albanian refugees, some who had papers saying they could stay here, were deported. Our economy depends on immigrant workers. Recent studies (see our last issue) have shown that immigrant workers help the economy grow and raise the wages of all workers.

In many of these situations families have been torn apart. Parents have been picked up during the day when there was no one to receive the children after school or from baby sitters. Hundreds of children have been separated from their parents. Elderly people have been left alone.

Univision reported that when 360 mostly women from Central America were detained in a raid in Bedford, Massachusetts, they were given no opportunity to have their children taken care of. More than 140 kids were left behind in schools, day-care centers or with neighbors who were unprepared to support them. Maria Salinas of Univision reported that some of the children had medical conditions that required special attention. And a 7-month old breast-feeding infant ended up in the hospital for dehydration because he refused to drink the formula that was given to him while his mother was in custody.” Social workers from Massachusetts have traveled to Texas to visit deportation centers to plead that mothers be reunited with their children.

Terror Tactics in Houston

The terror tactics are also being used by the government against the people in Houston.

Yesterday, as so many do each day, a mother came to ask for help. Her apartment had been locked by the manager for nonpayment of rent. She asked us to help with the rent, explaining that her husband had been deported a month ago. This mother had gone to the doctor and was told that she probably was having a stroke and should be immediately hospitalized. But she couldn’t go to the hospital because her three children would then be alone; she was taking pain medication and a blood thinner instead.

We tried to get to the bottom of the situation, to understand her options in order to assist. We learned that the whole family had left Guatemala a year ago to come to the United States when the oldest boy (age 14) was threatened if he did not join the gang. He was beaten up twice. We asked, do you want to go back to Guatemala to join your husband? Well, that is a difficult question. I’m afraid my son will be killed like the other boy in the neighborhood who refused to join the gang.

Another mother with young children came to ask for help because her husband was deported. This husband did not have a deportation order. The Immigration Service had come to the apartment complex to find someone who did, and simply fanned out into the adjoining apartments to take whomever else they could find. One of our Catholic Workers remarked, “Don’t they know that this is totalitarian? It’s like in the worst dictatorships when people are picked up at their homes in the middle of the night.” There are so many families being torn apart. Over 18,000 valuable workers have been arrested and jailed, torn from their families by this campaign.

A man desperate for work whose son is disabled watched as someone came up to offer day laborers a job in another part of the city, pledging $8 an hour. He didn’t go with them, and he felt fortunate. It turned out to have been a ploy by Immigration.

In our society and the globalized society where having is much more important than being and speed and innovation and material success at whatever price are the prized qualities, these persons are considered by some to be nobodies, throw-aways. But for those who come to know them, however, briefly, they are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, with hearts and caring personalities, with the same worries that middle class people have—for their husbands, for their children—also with faults, like the rest of us.

Not Another Bracero Program

Those who wish to impose another bracero program (now calling it “guest worker”) instead of Immigration reform, are not doing any favors for the immigrant worker, but making matters worse. The original bracero program only allowed for workers to stay briefly and return home, not allowing families to accompany workers or allowing people to work toward citizenship. A bracero program exploits the worker for several years and leaves him (her) with no future in this country or his own when he returns.

Planned Law Turns Government into Coyotes

The proposed plan to insist that 12 million undocumented immigrants go home to their countries and pay $10,000 for each family member before they can return is an assault on the dignity of so many from whose work we all have profited for years. No family will be able to do it. This proposal would turn the U.S. government into coyotes, more expensive and as cruel as the cruel coyotes currently operating.

The campaigns drumming up hatred of immigrants are tinged with racism as were the campaigns by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the labor laws in the 19 th century which ensured that Chinese workers in California would be treated more like slaves than persons.

The association of builders in Houston has started a campaign for real comprehensive immigration reform because they need the workers so badly. What is needed is a program that would treat workers as human beings and benefit U. S. businesses. The United States can do better than to take advantage of workers without helping them to build a future for their families.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, May-June 2007.