Is this what our nation has come to? War against unarmed working mothers? Have we no shame?
Dozens of petite young mothers gathered this week in the parking lot outside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Mississippi. Each wore a long dress or pants to hide their electronic ankle bracelets. Lift up a pants leg and you can see the black plastic band and monitor which is the size of a pack of cigarettes. Most wore sandals. Several were obviously pregnant.
From the outside the building looked like any office park. But a blue Homeland Security flag waved right next to the red white and blue out in front. Inside, the mothers were being interviewed and readied for deportation.
The crime these mothers are charged with? Not guns, not drugs, not spying. Working to put food on the table for their families and not being citizens of the U.S.
Heavily armed federal agents stormed the Laurel Mississippi parts plant where they worked in late August. Helicopters swarmed in an operation ABC News described as “paramilitary.” Agents shackled hundreds of workers at the wrist, waist and ankles.
About one hundred women and nearly three hundred men were arrested. Most of the men are in prison. The women are wearing ankle bracelets 24/7.
One of the women has been working in the US for eleven years. She has children 8 and 7 years old. Another has been here 2 years and has a one year old child. One started work at the raided plant three weeks before ICE showed up.
In the Homeland Security office, no guns were visible. Agents were polite as interviews were conducted at several desks in an open office area. Yet tears dripped down the face of one mother as federal agents questioned her.
These hundred mothers are a tiny fraction of the casualties of the U.S. war on unarmed mothers and fathers.
In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 30,408 immigrants, about double the number for 2006.
This 2008 election season finds federal criminal agents more active than ever. A few recent operations will illustrate.
In April 2008, federal agents arrested about 400 immigrants working at chicken plants in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
In May, US officials rushed eleven restaurants in San Francisco arresting 63 immigrant workers.
Later in May, 389 immigrants were arrested in Pottsville, Iowa for working at a meatpacking plant in what was then the largest workplace raid in US history. Federal agents packing heavy duty weapons surrounded the plant while others in helicopters swarmed overhead.
In July, 43 agricultural workers were arrested in Hawaii.
In August, federal officials arrested 59 people working at a parachute plant in North Carolina. Also in August, ICE agents arrested 42 undocumented people working at the Dulles airport.
Later in August, over 350 workers were arrested in Laurel Mississippi setting a new record for the largest single workplace immigration raid in US history.
Thus far in September, there have been an increasing number of raids. In early September, federal agents raided a bakery in Palm Springs arresting 53 workers. Another September raid netted 65 arrests at a candle plant in Arizona. In Chicago, federal agents swooped in by helicopter and arrested 21 people.
In just the last week, federal agents raided a house in Hercules, California, arresting 21 undocumented workers, and raided a hotel in Maui arresting another 21.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops, no leftist group, condemned the raids in September saying, "The humanitarian costs of these raids are immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society."
What the hell is going on? How many working mothers and fathers and children must be sacrificed in this election year war?
Does the U.S. feel so vulnerable that we really need to declare war on unarmed working mothers and conduct paramilitary raids on bakeries, candle shops, and meatpacking plants in order to feel safe? Shame on us.
Bill is a human rights attorney and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill and others at Loyola are helping the Catholic Legal Immigration Network represent dozens of mothers arrested in Laurel, Mississippi. [email protected]