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 user 2009-02-10 at 3:05:22 pm Views: 76
  • #21396

    One year later, immigration raid at factory leaves lives in limbo
     A year ago, Gregorio Perez Cruz stood at his work station at a Van Nuys factory dismantling printer cartridges, as he had done for the previous two years.Forty-five minutes into his shift, he walked to a nearby water fountain for a drink and spotted law enforcement officers with weapons strapped to their legs and waists. What happened next turned his tranquil life upside down.”They came in shouting, `Everybody out. Stop doing what you are doing,”‘ Perez Cruz recalled.He said he was ushered into a hallway, where he saw anxious co-workers trying to steady trembling hands. That’s when he heard the word “immigration.”

    That moment was the beginning of an ordeal that continues today for Perez Cruz and more than 100 others arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a raid at Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys on Feb. 7, 2008.In the year that has passed, no resolution has been reached in the cases of Perez Cruz and the bulk of other arrested workers accused of being in the country illegally. Some have returned voluntarily to their homelands; others, like Perez Cruz, wait to see if they may be deported.Of eight workers facing criminal charges, such as identity theft, 2010 trial dates have been set for four.And so the debate rages over what, if anything, was gained by the raid at the printer cartridge factory.

    Civil liberties groups are pressing claims that authorities violated workers’ rights during the raid.ICE, meanwhile, argues that even without a resolution to individual cases, the Van Nuys raid acts as a deterrent to illegal immigration and hiring.The lack of measurable impact, critics say, reflects a national stalemate over immigration policy – an impasse likely to drag on as the country’s economic crisis takes center stage and the Obama administration shapes its own immigration policy.”Nothing has been gained,” said Nora Preciado, an attorney for the L.A.-based National Immigration Law Center, a legal group that advocates for the rights of low-income immigrants and their families. “People’s lives have been destroyed.”

    Perez Cruz, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, is trying to get his charges dismissed, arguing the raid wasn’t conducted properly.”The agents flagrantly violated both immigration regulations and the Constitution,” said Ahilan Arulananthm, Perez Cruz’s lead attorney and the ACLU’s director of immigrants’ rights and national security.”Most importantly, instead of only detaining those people who they suspected of being unlawfully present, they chose just to round up everyone first and gather evidence later.”Perez Cruz said he was handcuffed, arrested and questioned five times without being read his rights and without an attorney present. He says he didn’t get anything to eat for 18 hours after the raid, and he said he had to drink water from a bathroom sink in the detention center, where he was taken from the factory.He wasn’t able to use a bathroom until he got to the detention center, hours after the arrest.

    Similar allegations
    Other detainees have made the same charges, which ICE refutes.”It’s our policy to treat all persons humanely,” said Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman. “That includes providing adequate food, water and access to restrooms.”Separate from the immigration and criminal cases, more than 100 people at the Van Nuys plant filed claims for damages against the U.S. government, charging that they were unlawfully detained – a charge ICE disagrees with.”We maintain that the search was conducted properly in accordance with the terms of the warrant, the federal rules of criminal procedure and ICE policies,” Kice said.Peter Schey, president of the L.A.-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and an attorney for the 115 people from the Van Nuys plant, said that in addition to emotional distress, such raids cause economic turmoil for U.S. workers, customers, investors and businesses.

    After raids, business owners consider outsourcing, selling their company, closing their doors or opening a site outside the United States, Schey said. The increased costs of doing business are passed on to customers or remaining workers.”The ripple effect of the economic consequences are enormous,” Schey said.Plus, the raids do nothing to seriously address the millions of illegals in the country, he said.During the Van Nuys raid, ICE arrested 138 people out of the millions of illegals in the Los Angeles area.”It’s like a grain of sand on the beach,” Schey said. “It is entirely symbolic.”He suggests a different approach – ICE officials could audit employment paperwork, identify illegal workers and then work with employers.

    Enforcing the law
    Kice noted that ICE is enforcing the country’s laws and the outcome of this case is not final.What is definite is that hiring illegal workers doesn’t benefit business owners, the economy or legal residents and citizens, the ICE spokeswoman said.In some cases, illegal workers have stolen a legal resident or citizen’s identity in order to forge the necessary employment paperwork. Some employers have smuggled workers into the United States and exploited them, paying them dismal wages.

    Raids, which ICE calls work-site enforcement actions, protect the integrity of the nation’s legal immigration system, Kice said.”The prospect of employment is one of the most significant factors fueling illegal immigration,” she said. “That is why work-site enforcement has been a important facet of the nation’s immigration enforcement strategy.”Illegal immigration is down nationwide and increased raids are likely part of the reason, according to a July 2008 study – called Homeward Bound – by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.Through last May, the number of illegal immigrants in the country declined by 1.3 million people compared with the peak during the previous summer. The center estimates the current illegal population at 11.2 million.

    The worsening economy is among the main reasons for the decline.
    Barbara Coe, founder and president of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, a Huntington Beach-based nonprofit that advocates enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, disputes the findings that illegal immigration has decreased.The election of Barack Obama as president has changed the atmosphere dramatically, Coe said.”Those statistics are now a thing of the past,” Coe said. “I am talking to people on the border who are watching a deluge of illegal aliens coming in, sniffing amnesty in the air.”

    Obama campaigned on having undocumented residents register, pay fines and begin a path to legalization, which opponents tag as amnesty, said Angela Kelley, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center, the research arm of the pro-immigrant American Immigration Law Foundation.Three million children born in the United States have at least one parent who is undocumented, Kelley said. And of the 11 million to 12 million undocumented people in the United States, 60 percent have been here eight years or longer.”You can’t divide up the family barbecue and put undocumented on one side and citizens on the other,” Kelley said. “You are breaking up families.”

    The immigration quandary won’t be solved anytime soon since the economy is taking center stage, said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports immigration law enforcement.”Immigration is not going to come up that much,” Camarota said. “When it does, the political stalemate in Washington is likely to remain.”That means, if his charges are dropped, Gregorio Perez Cruz’s life will stay in the same limbo as before, except now he has a 6-month-old son.”I want to stay here,” the 24-year-old said. “I feel like I am part of this country. I have a family here.”