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Raid in Portland

Natalia J. Garland

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The Fresh Del Monte Produce processing plant in Portland, Oregon, was raided by I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on June 12, 2007. This plant uses the American Staffing Resources, Inc., to recruit their employees. Over 165 employees were detained for possible deportation, and three employees were indicted on charges of illegal immigration, illegal documents, and identity theft. One of the three had been previously deported to Mexico after a heroin conviction. Thirty of the employees were released for "humanitarian reasons." Among the approximately 600 current Del Monte employees (a number which reflects seasonal and shift work at the time of the raid), only 48 had legitimate Social Security cards.

Mayor Tom Potter and Senator Avel Gordly expressed their reactions to the raid. Mayor Potter stated: "I am angered by this morning's arrest by federal officers of approximately 150 Portland residents who were working at a local produce company." "I certainly understand why federal officials executed criminal warrants against three individuals who stole and sold Social Security numbers. But to go after local workers who are here to support their families while filling the demands of local businesses for their labor is bad policy. It also serves as a reminder of the failure of our national leaders to deliver an immigration policy that is both fair and humane to families and acknowledges the economic realities of our country." "In this morning’s raid, no Portland police officers participated, and our Crisis Response Team was activated to help families affected. [End of quotes.]

Senator Gordly stated: "I join Mayor Potter in expressing absolute outrage about the immigration raid at a food processing plant in Portland on Tuesday." "People doing hard work for minimum wage to support their families are not criminals, regardless of their immigration status. They are not a danger to anyone." "I question the use of valuable and limited resources by federal authorities to target these unfortunate workers and their families instead of addressing the real dangers posed by terrorism, smuggling and other threats to public safety." [End of quotes.] Another reaction came from a woman who said her aunt worked for Del Monte, "They're not hurting anybody."

There are five points of concern related to the above statements. (1) Severity of immigrant crime measured on a continuum, with a pathway to citizenship as the solution to illegal crossing of the border. (2) Elected officials who themselves are possibly in violation of law by giving assistance to illegal immigrants. (3) Criticism of I.C.E. for doing its legitimate job. (4) The city's deflection of problem-solving to the federal government regarding their own "Portland residents." (5) Whether or not the illegal employees are hurting anybody.

My intention is to stress that evaluation, criticism, and ideas should be presented with accurate facts and careful reasoning. If an argument can be taken apart, then it is not a good argument. The American public deserves to be treated with intellectual respect. And, illegal immigrants should be given a thorough appraisal of their status. Emotional reaction and subjective interpretation are obstacles to discussion and, in the end, to finding the best solutions for everyone.

This lack of creative problem-solving shows itself in the either/or thinking of some of our political leaders. They see only two possibilities: we either conduct a forced deportation of all illegal immigrants because they have broken the law, or provide them with a pathway to citizenship because they are hardworking and have families. Very few people search for alternate solutions which would satisfy both the needs of a nation built on laws and of a citizenry dedicated to humanitarian values. Difficult problems should bring out the best in our leaders and not plunge them into defeatism.

(1) Some crimes are more serious than others. Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor. Isolated within itself, it certainly does not carry the impact of assault, rape, or murder. The criminal justice system measures crime on a continuum from lesser to greater levels of severity, and administers appropriate punishment (community service, fines, imprisonment) for the level of crime committed.

Deportment to the native country is the current legal response to the crime of unauthorized crossing of the border; a response which seems rarely to be enforced. Due to the large number of illegal immigrants (12 million seems to be the standard estimate, but there could be many more), this misdemeanor-level crime has permeated American society and has affected schools, hospitals, courts and prisons. Although Potter accepts these illegal immigrants as "Portland residents," I.C.E. treated them as people who did not have the legal right to live and work in Portland. Although Gordly states that I.C.E. seemed to " these unfortunate workers and their families...," I.C.E. was enforcing current laws and fulfilling the purpose of its existence.

(2) Potter and Gordly had strong negative reactions to the Del Monte raid. According to the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, encouraging or assisting an illegal immigrant to reside within American borders is against the law, and is punishable by fines or imprisonment per each illegal immigrant affected. Potter sent his Crisis Response Team to help the families of the "Portland residents" who were detained. What if this could be regarded as violation of the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act? Would Potter react this way if he faced fines or imprisonment? Is his anger over the raid so integral to his political platform and humanitarian advocacy that he would go to prison on behalf of the "Portland residents?" Only Potter, in his heart, knows the answer to these questions.

(3) Potter and Gordly obviously believe that they are fulfilling their jobs as mayor and senator, respectively, by advocating for the hardworking their families. There seems to be a double standard: it is illegal employees of the Del Monte plant. However, when I.C.E. arrived on Portland turf, these hardworking federal employees were criticized for also trying to fulfill their jobs and support praiseworthy that illegal immigrants are doing the humble work of packaging lettuce, but outrageous that I.C.E. officers are doing the work of enforcing immigration laws.

(4) The federal government is responsible for enforcement of immigration laws. Even so, at any time, Potter could have notified I.C.E about the illegal immigrant situation in Portland, Oregon. In fact, Potter is a former police officer and police chief, having begun his own law enforcement career in 1966. While it is a failure of the federal government, state and city officials share some responsibility for illegal immigration if they did not voice any objections throughout the years. Apparently, Potter did not criticize Del Monte for employing only 48 people with legitimate Social Security cards. (Del Monte issued a statement expressing cooperation with I.C.E.) Potter was aware (as per his own reference to a 2000 U.S. Census report) that " out of every eight residents in the greater Portland Tri-County area is foreign-born and--in some East Portland neighborhoods--immigrants represent one out of every three residents..."

(5) Perhaps illegal immigration would never have reached massive proportions if state and city officials had firmly voiced concern for the impact on schools and hospitals as well as for the wellbeing of illegal immigrants. Now there are some Portland residents who seem to have the attitude, "They're not hurting anybody." It is likely that some illegal immigrants and their families really believe they are not hurting anybody by doing the humble work of packaging lettuce, that they are living off the refuse of a rich American society. If they understand little or no English, some are probably easily indoctrinated by political extremist Spanish-language newspapers and radio hosts.

Are illegal immigrants hurting anybody? According to Robert Rector's Congressional Testimony, given on May 17, 2007: "At the state and local level, the average low skill immigrant household [i.e. a household headed by an immigrant who did not graduate from high school], received $14,145 in benefits and services and paid only $5,309 in taxes. The average low skill immigrant households imposed a net fiscal burden on state and local government of $8,836 per year." [End of quote.]

Rector goes on to say, "Granting amnesty or conditional amnesty to illegal immigrants would, over time, increase their use of means-tested welfare, Social Security and Medicare. Fiscal costs would go up significantly in the short term but would go up dramatically after the amnesty recipient reached retirement. Based on my current research, I estimate that if all the current adult illegal immigrants in the U.S. were granted amnesty the net retirement costs to government (benefits minus taxes) could be over $2.5 trillion." [End of quote.]

Since the question of whether immigrants and illegal immigrants are hurting the economy or, as Mayor Potter says, "...filling the demands of local businesses for their labor...," is such a crucial point in the pros and cons of illegal immigration, the Congressional Testimony of Robert Rector warrants further study: " is frequently argued that low skill immigration is beneficial because low skill immigrants expand the economy of gross domestic product (G.D.P.). While it is obviously true that low skill immigrants enlarge the G.D.P., the problem with this argument is that the immigrants themselves capture most of the gain from expanded production in their own wages. Metaphorically, while low skill immigrants make the American economic pie larger, they themselves consume most of the pie slice their labor adds." [End of quote.]

"The central issue in the debate over the costs and benefits of low skill immigration is not whether such immigration makes the U.S. G.D.P. larger (clearly it does), but whether low skill immigration raises the post tax income of the average non-immigrant American. Given the very large net tax burden that low skill immigrants impose on U.S. society, such immigrants would have to raise the incomes on non-immigrants to a remarkable degree to have a net beneficial effect. But there is little evidence to suggest that low skill immigrants increase the incomes of non-immigrants. The National Academy of Sciences, for example, estimated that all immigration produces a net economic gain of only $1 to $10 billion per year; this gain is the result of a reduction in consumer prices that is driven by a decline in wages for low skill non-immigrant workers." [End of quote.]

Regarding our current welfare system, Rector states, "...This very expensive assistance to the least advantaged American families has become accepted as our mutual responsibility for one another, but it is fiscally unsustainable to apply this system of lavish income redistribution to an inflow of millions of poorly educated immigrants." [End of quote.]

What is the average American to think? On the one hand, advocates of the amnesty/citizenship movement tell us that illegal immigrants are needed to fill jobs and that they contribute to the overall economy. On the other hand, we can read reports such as the one by Rector in which he tells us that immigrants without high school diplomas receive more than they contribute, that America cannot sustain long-term massive immigration, and that citizenship will not remedy the problem. This is a very frightening prospect for the average American middle-class worker. Can Potter or Gordly offer any factual information or analysis of information that would counteract or balance Rector's report? If so, please share it. If not, then many average Americans are probably thankful that I.C.E. raided the Del Monte plant.

The above five points of concern arose from the news of and reactions to the raid of the Del Monte plant in Portland, Oregon. There is a sixth point which arises from a speech given by Senator Gordly in 2006 at an immigrant workers rally. Gordly spoke on the concept of "no human being is illegal," relating it to the race-related discrimination suffered by African Americans, Native Americans, Japanese Americans during World War II, and to women's right to vote (which was not recognized in Oregon until 1912). Gordly, who is an African American woman, also talked about her parents who experienced discrimination when they tried to buy a house.

Gordly repeatedly connected illegal workers' rights to the history of racism in America, to the "...power of hate and bigotry." At the time of the 2006 rally, the Sensenbrenner Bill (which would have made illegal crossing of the border a felony crime) was being put before the U.S. Congress . Gordly said, "Now there is another movement in the U.S. Congress that would further dehumanize people who are born in other countries, particularly people of color, and particularly people who speak languages other than English." Gordly also encouraged people to, "Know your history, know your oppressor..."

(6) It is a grievous error, in my opinion, (A) to view opponents of illegal immigration as racists, and (B) to include illegal immigrants in the history of racism in America. Racism in America today is different from the racism of the past: (C) today's racists are a minority, and (D) they are varied in their own racist tendencies. There are people of various races who are prejudiced against other particular races. It is not just a matter of white against people of color; but black against white, brown against black, etc. No doubt, some of the opponents of illegal immigration are racists, but this is not true of the majority. Reduction to racism oversimplifies the objections to and questions about illegal immigration, and makes productive discussion impossible.

It is fact that most illegal immigrants are Mexican and speak Spanish. It is not a matter of race, but a matter of sheer number of persons and the impact this has on schools, hospitals, courts, prisons, and the economy that worries the average American. Mexicans who cross the border illegally do so in liberation from the oppressive Mexican economy. This has been enabled by America's permissive attitude and our porous border. The oppressor: Mexico. The liberator: America.

Let me close this essay with a statement that Senator Gordly would probably appreciate: yes, we should know our history, our oppressors, and those who would divide our society into isolated or warring factions. Knowledge, strength, and communication must be based on objectivity, fairness, and respect. That means any solution to the problem of illegal immigration must rest on valid premises, and not on a stereotype of any group of people--including mainstream Americans. (Written 06/18/07: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland