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Rage One (blog)

domingo, febrero 10, 2008

Public needs the truth about predawn raids


OK, America, here’s the deal: Federal agents are conducting predawn raids, without warrants, to round up immigrants, but you don’t need to know the details. Apparently, you don’t care enough about the issue.

Homeland Security officials are accused of pounding on doors at 3 a.m., screaming “police” to draw people out of their homes, and hauling off those who can’t prove their legal residency. But many of those questioned in fact do have legal standing to live here.

Brazilian Voice, a twice-a-week Portuguese-language newspaper based in New Jersey, filed an expedited Freedom of Information Act request in December to find out more about these immigrants. But the government denied the request, issuing this statement: “A preliminary search of the Internet does not indicate that there is a substantial current news interest concerning this topic.” Oh, really?

Apparently, the round-’em-up rhetoric on immigration coming from the presidential campaigns is lost on the bureaucrats at Homeland Security. They also seemed to have missed the megaphone bravado of CNN’s Lou Dobbs and a hundred other barking patriots who prop up their ratings with this issue.

Is the Department of Homeland Security really this clueless?

I think not. Nor is Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice, which filed a lawsuit in late January challenging the denial.

Brazilian Voice believes more than 40 raids have occurred in New Jersey since January 2006, part of Operation Return to Sender, a charmingly dubbed effort by Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch. The goal is for each of ICE’s “fugitive operation teams” to fulfill a quota of catching 1,000 immigrants with deportation orders. The effort is believed to be occurring across the nation.

Fugitive arrests have doubled in the past fiscal year, up to 30,408 nationally in fiscal 2007, according to ICE records.

Is this the best use of our Homeland Security resources? Are ICE’s tactics constitutional or appropriate? We need more information to reply.

For now, much of what is known can be found in local newspaper accounts and anecdotes coming out of immigrant communities. The Bergen County (N.J.) Record quoted immigration officials saying they simply “sensed” that those targeted were involved in criminal activity, such as gang membership. By the government’s own statistics, 87 percent of those hauled out of New Jersey in 2007 had no criminal history.

The raids are ratcheting up fear in immigrant communities, both legal and illegal. Rumors are spreading, understandably. No doubt many of them will prove to be untrue.

But people deserve to know if there is truth behind the assertion of one New Jersey mayor that Indonesians in the process of appealing their orders of deportation had been rounded up. Other accounts tell of political asylum seekers being arrested.

People need to know if it’s true that fathers have been taken away from their families, leaving U.S.-born children to fend for themselves. They deserve to know if mace really was used to smoke some immigrants out of a back bedroom.

Scrutiny is not a bad thing. When Julie Myers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant secretary, found out that a nursing mother had been detained in a raid last fall, she redirected staff with kinder, gentler instructions not to rip babies from their mother’s breasts.

It really does not matter if you’re a stalwart of the “deport ’em all” crowd, or if you take a more reasonable and humanitarian approach to checking legal status. You deserve to know what the government is doing on your behalf.

Freedom of information experts say the surest way to get your FOIA request denied is to insist you have grounds to having it fulfilled quickly. That is part of the cat-and-mouse game reporters often play with officials who would rather not offer up their actions to public scrutiny.

Bureaucracy is one thing. But people’s lives are literally at stake here. The government is trying to hide behind the contention that the public has little interest in these raids or their targets. That is a blatant lie.

To reach Mary Sanchez call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar. com.
© 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansasci

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