By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
Calling the humanitarian cost “immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Sept. 10 called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and President Bush to abandon the use of worksite raids as an immigration enforcement tool.
“[The raids] reveal, sadly, the failure of a seriously flawed immigration system which, as we have consistently stated, requires comprehensive reform,” said Utah Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on migration in a press conference held at the Bishops’ headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Workplace enforcement raids increased after Congress failed to pass an immigration reform bill in June of last year. Since then, DHS has escalated efforts to identify, detain and deport unauthorized workers by raiding worksites. The Bishops’ statement was issued after a 15-month assessment of evidence that showed the workplace raids were not solving “the broader challenge of illegal immigration.” Bishop Wester added. In that time, approximately 4,500 undocumented workers have been detained and 111 employers cited in workplace raids.
It has resulted in families being torn apart, communities economically devastated, immigrants being mistreated and an increase in racial tension in areas with large immigrant populations, said Msgr. Hugh Shields, the vicar for Hispanic Catholics for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“How are enforcing broken laws, which everyone agrees are broken, solving the problem?” he asked. “Are these raids in the workplace really rounding up terrorists, drug dealers, or those set on undermining the values of the American way? The raids are using our law enforcement agencies as ‘private police forces’ to the detriment of real protection to our country’s citizens.”
The raids have separated U.S.-citizen children from their parents; arrested immigrants have not been afforded the rights of due process; local communities have been disrupted and U.S. citizens and residents, including children, have been victimized, according to the Bishops’ statement.
“The sweeping nature of these raids – which often involve hundreds of law enforcement personnel with weapons – strike fear in immigrant communities and make it difficult for those arrested to secure basic due process protections, including legal counsel,” the Bishops said.
In the absence of comprehensive reform, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have sought to work collaboratively with DHS to ensure humanitarian considerations in executing workplace raids; however, the Bishops “believe that DHS has not gone far enough to ensure that human rights protections are consistently applied in all enforcement actions.”
“Work-site enforcement raids not only undermine basic human dignity and family unity, they pit human beings against each other in a violent and frightening way,” said Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Texas, who was also present at the press conference. “The vast majority of immigrants are not criminals. They are simply attempting to work and support their families.”
As a bishop whose diocese shares a border with Mexico, “I understand fully the tension between law enforcement and migration,” he said. “The Catholic Church has always supported the right of a nation to protect its sovereignty and to secure its borders. Such enforcement must be tempered, however, in a way that balances the national interest with the basic God-given right and dignity of human beings. In the Church’s view these raids fail to pass this test.”
Tim O’Connell, a pastoral agent for the Hispanic Ministry in Delaware County, which provides services to Hispanic communities in Upper Darby and Chester, agrees.
“Enforcement is important. The Bishops have stated that each country has a right to protect its borders, but at the same time we have a broken immigration system that doesn’t meet the needs of employers here… [Nor does it] allow for immigrants to come here and fulfill jobs in a legal and orderly manner,” he said.
“Worker visas were cut this year, and that is the type of program we need to expand. Many immigrant workers would be perfectly happy to come and work for a time in order to make a living and then return to their country.”
The Center for Concern, a Catholic organization dedicated to eliminating social and economic injustices, notes that illegal immigration involves more than the immigrant who enters the U.S. illegally. It also involves self-interested trade negotiations between governments, employers who exploit cheap labor, corporate leaders who turn a profit and consumers who benefit from lower food and service costs, all because of illegal immigration.
The Mexican Bishops’ conference also noted at the beginning of the year that the recent surge of immigration is a direct effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement since small farmers and rural communities in Mexico cannot compete with heavily subsidized U.S. and Canadian agricultural producers.
Bishop Wester also called for the presidential candidates to pay attention to this situation, noting that he believes both candidates would work with the USCCB to secure comprehensive immigration reform.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.