Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alien Laborers Caught in Criminal Gang Raids

Should U.S. authorities (and the American public) make distinctions among illegal immigrants based on gang membership status? The New York Times thinks so:

It was still dark the morning of Sept. 27 when armed federal immigration agents, guided by local police officers, swept into this village on the East End of Long Island. Within hours, as the team rousted sleeping families, 11 men were added to a running government tally of arrests made in Operation Community Shield, a two-year-old national program singling out violent gang members for deportation.

“Violent foreign-born gang members and their associates have more than worn out their welcome,” Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at an October news conference announcing the arrests of 1,313 people in the operation over the summer and fall nationwide. “And to them I have one message: Good riddance.”

But, to the dismay of many of Greenport’s 2,500 residents, the raid here did not match her words.

Only one of the 11 men taken away that morning was suspected of a gang affiliation, according to the Southold Town police, who patrol Greenport and played the crucial role of identifying targets for the operation.

The 10 others, while accused of immigration violations, were not gang associates and had no criminal records.

Instead, they were known as good workers and family men. When they suddenly vanished into the far-flung immigration detention system, six of their employers hired lawyers to try to find and free them. Some went further, like Dan and Tina Finne, who agreed to take care of the 3-year-old American-born daughter of a Guatemalan carpenter who was swept up in the raid, if her mother was detained, too.

“This is un-American,” said Ms. Finne, 41, a Greenport native, echoing other citizens who condemned the home raids in public meetings and letters to The Suffolk Times, a weekly newspaper. “We need to do something about immigration, but not this.”

Greenport’s experience with Operation Community Shield sheds light on the inner workings of an antigang crackdown that has brought immigration raids to private homes across the country. The crackdown relies heavily on local police forces to identify suspects, often based on loosely defined or subjective criteria.

But the raid in Greenport also underscores the potential for backlash from local residents and officials when results conflict with expectations.

As the details of the Sept. 27 raid spread through this village, where about 17 percent of residents are Hispanic, some citizens began to protest the very premise of the operation — and the participation of local officers.

David Nyce, Greenport’s mayor, said, “The whole gang issue is something to keep the white majority scared about the Latino population, and to come in and bust as many people as they want.”

“I spoke to the police chief,” he added, “and I said, ‘This is going to set you back a lot.’ ”

Elsewhere in Suffolk County, many welcomed the sweep. The Suffolk County police, who patrol towns in the western part of the county, had only praise for the operation.

But the county executive and the county police commissioner in neighboring Nassau County disagreed. They said that the vast majority of those arrested in their county were not gang associates, and that residents and police alike had been endangered by what they called the agents’ “cowboy mentality,” including armed raids on the wrong homes.

Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement dismiss such criticism. They say that the operation was properly conducted and methodically planned, based on intelligence provided by the local police departments themselves. “Collateral arrests” of illegal immigrants who are not gang suspects are always appropriate to the agency’s mission, they said.
A round of applause here for ICE. They're doing their job. Illegal aliens are criminals, gang members or not. They should get in line for legalization just like any other law-abiding legal immigrant seeking to make the U.S. their home.