Saturday, June 26, 2004

Raids don't solve immigration issue - Opinion -

Raids don't solve immigration issue - Opinion -

Despite assurances from "La migra," the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department, that no sweeps will be conducted in the Salinas area, some Latino neighborhoods are in a near panic over the possibility.

Some people even are seeing things: vans they think are Border Patrol vehicles in local parking lots; people lined up for questioning on sidewalks; farm workers stopped in the fields and asked to show identification. None of this has been confirmed, but anxiety and rumor are definitely spreading.

The source of the rumors and worries is Southern California, where the Border Patrol has been conducting immigration raids, stopping people on the streets, at bus stops and at their front doors. More than 400 people have been arrested since June 1, according to news reports.

Yet there is popular support for the Border Patrol to bring raids to this area. The Salinas Californian's online "Big Question" for Wednesday was: "Should federal immigration officials conduct raids in the Salinas area in an effort to deport undocumented workers?" Sixty-one percent of more than 250 respondents said "yes."

Why not? After all, the undocumented workers are breaking the laws of the United States. So why not scare them off with the fear of arrest and deportation?

The trouble is, public raids or sweeps of people in public are not going to solve the illegal immigration issue. It will keep them from going to work or shopping or sending their children to school. Some of this is already being seen from Soledad to Watsonville.

No, raids aren't the answer to illegal immigration. Only a smart and enforceable immigration policy that focuses on control of U.S. borders while allowing for the supply of workers needed to fuel America's economic engines will address the problem comprehensively.

For every illegal immigrant rounded up and deported by raids, there is another, maybe two, to take his or her place, presumably in the fields, restaurants and factories.

American employers' huge demand for cheap labor will continue to attract workers who can get to U.S. jobs quickly. In this area, those workers come mostly from Mexico and Central America. They take jobs that keep costs down in the United States -- jobs at which often little attempt is made to enforce laws already on the books regarding undocumented workers. Arresting some high-profile employers would do more to discourage illegal immigration than grabbing people off the street.

Our immigration policy, both written and unwritten, is sheer hypocrisy. It creates a system that relies -- and, in some cases, even encourages -- the use of low-paid, undocumented workers.

So why does the Border Patrol go to such lengths to kick them out when employers are so eager to bring them in?

This month's sweeps in Southern California focus a spotlight on our failing immigration policy and should return it to the front burner in the presidential campaign.

We need swift immigration reform to control our borders against terrorism and provide the supply of laborers our economy depends on.

Meanwhile, until American citizens and their leaders come up with a better immigration policy, it makes no sense to wreak havoc on the lives of people who live and work here -- legal or otherwise.

Originally published Saturday, June 26, 2004


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