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"This reminds me of Nazi Germany"
Feds' raids spread fear among immigrants

By Eric Ruder | September 22, 2006 | Page 12

FEDERAL AGENTS are carrying out raids and roundups in immigrant communities across the U.S., spreading fear and sending some migrant workers fleeing.

In three California towns--Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Hollister--Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rounded up 107 people in two days in early September.

Immigration lawyers in the area have been swamped with people trying to help relatives caught up in the sweeps, but nearly half of those detained were deported within 24 hours, making it difficult for them to assert even the basic right to have their cases heard before an immigration judge.

Elsewhere, raids swept up 90 people in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, 55 people in West Michigan and 34 in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley. Of those arrested, most came from Mexico, but people from many other countries--including Guatemala, El Salvador, India, Ethiopia and others--were also picked up.

In California, many parents are now afraid to walk their children to school for fear of being swept up. "There is a lot of apprehension in the Latino community about the safety of their children," said Ralph Porras, assistant superintendent of Santa Cruz City Schools.

One woman told Socialist Worker that her neighbor, a 19-year-old undocumented woman with a 2-year-old son, is afraid to leave her home, and asked, "Will my son become the property of the U.S. government if I am deported?"

According to press reports, the community of Stillmore, Ga., a small town of 1,000 people, has practically become a ghost town since ICE agents began roundups there on September 1.

"Trailer parks lie abandoned," wrote the Associated Press. "The poultry plant is scrambling to replace more than half its workforce. Business has dried up at stores where Mexican laborers once lined up to buy food, beer and cigarettes just weeks ago...More than 120 illegal immigrants have been loaded onto buses bound for immigration courts in Atlanta, 189 miles away. Hundreds more fled Emanuel County. Residents say many scattered into the woods, camping out for days. They worry some are still hiding without food."

The raids--and the shattered families left behind--shocked even the town's mayor, Marilyn Slater. "This reminds me of what I read about Nazi Germany, the Gestapo coming in and yanking people up," said Slater.

When agents stormed the trailer park that David Robinson owns and operates, he was so disgusted that he bought an American flag and posted it upside down in protest. "These people might not have American rights, but they've damn sure got human rights," said Robinson. "There isn't any reason to treat them like animals."

The Crider poultry plant is by far Stillmore's largest employer, and its workforce is primarily made up of undocumented workers from Mexico. Since the raids, the plant has drastically scaled back production, and the town's other small businesses, convenience stores and groceries have been hard hit by the mass exodus.

From Stillmore to Santa Cruz, broken families now struggle with how to put their lives back together. Many of those who were deported were their families' breadwinners, meaning that those left behind are now scrambling to make ends meet and keep food on the table.

Doug Keegan, director of the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project, said a 17-year-old girl explained to him that she would have to quit school and get a job to make house payments because both her mother and father were deported to Mexico. "This young person is completely at a loss as to how she's going to be able to maintain housing for herself and her younger siblings," Keegan told Santa Cruz Indymedia.

ICE officials are quick to claim that these raids aren't "random sweeps," but targeted enforcement designed to pick up "criminals," or those who have disregarded final deportation notices.

But eyewitness reports--and the statistics--tell a different story. "The reports were very disturbing," explains Keegan. "The officers came to these homes from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., banging on the door, identifying themselves as the police, and once they gained entry to the home, started questioning everyone in the home as to their immigration status."

Only 42 of the 107 arrested in Northern California had ignored deportation orders, and the remaining 65 were undocumented migrants "the agents happened to encounter," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The raids, part of the cynically named "Operation Return to Sender," which the Department of Homeland Security began on May 26, have so far led to arrests of 24,000 people nationally. Some 6,800 have been deported already.

Keegan thinks that the raids are a kind of retaliation for the immigrant rights protest that exploded this spring. "It's almost as if [the government] is trying to prove a point or make a statement to immigrants who demonstrated for better immigration laws and better reform that we're going to come back and flex our muscles--we're going to raid your communities and take people away," said Keegan.

Keegan's advice for immigrants facing harassment by ICE agents is to invoke their right to say nothing. "The most important thing I can tell people is not to open your door to begin with," said Keegan. "Once you open your door to the officers, they are given great latitude in questioning people. But if you don't open your door, they don't get that opportunity.

Kenny Gramsky and Owen Goodwin contributed to this report.

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