Putting Productive Work on ICE
by Ari Armstrong, December 15, 2006
"Merry Christmas, now get out," is the message that our government is sending to some people for the "crime" of working. But ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- is just carrying out the nonsensical, inhumane, wealth-destroying, and rights-violating policies of the federal government, policies that in turn are supported by a large number of alleged citizens.
In his December 14 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Mike Littwin reviews the basic events. On December 12, after a 10-month investigation, "1,000 ICE agents raided Swift meatpacking plants in six states... ICE agents arrested 1,282 people." Some agents "even don[ned] their riot gear." He notes, "There were 1,282 arrested -- of whom 65 were charged with felonies... And of those 5 percent, not all of them were even arrested for identity theft... At the Greeley plant, they arrested 262 people. And 11 were charged with felonies." (A December 15 story by Bruce Finley and Katharine Bernuth of The Denver Post claims that "arrests in Swift plants around the country topped 1,300," and I suppose the figure of 1,000 is a rounded estimate, but Littwin's figures are adequate for our purposes.)
So we paid 1,000 federal agents for the better part of a year in order to prevent 1,282 people from working. See how that makes us better off? These 2,282 people could have been engaged in productive work, the creation of wealth. Instead, 1,000 of them spent tax resources to prevent the rest from working. This, here in the so-called "land of free."
Now, it is the government's legitimate and useful purpose to track down, arrest, and prosecute (and/or deport) violent criminals -- those who hurt others or destroy property. The government also properly acts against fraud, the dishonest accumulation of wealth.
Identity theft for purposes of fraud is a serious crime worthy of serious government attention. The basic problem is using somebody else's credit line to purchase goods and services. But the sort of identity theft in question is not about fraud -- it's about gaining employment in a fundamentally unjust system in which U.S. politicians have been too stupid and/or immoral to implement a reasonable, workable, and rights-respecting guest-worker program.
The federal government has criminalized work. It is this policy which is the fundamental violation of rights. A change in this policy to re-legalize work would immediately stop the sort of identity theft in question. Such a change would also immediately stop smuggling of workers.
Myung Oak Kim And Rosa Ramirez write for the December 14 Rocky Mountain News: "At least 100 children are without parents because of the massive immigration raid Tuesday at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley, immigrant advocates estimated Wednesday."
Jean Torkelson (same paper, same day) reviewed the comments of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, with whom I often disagree but who made some sensible comments about the raids. In a statement, Chaput said: "The mass arrest of unauthorized workers in Colorado and across the country this week once again puts a human face on the flaws in our immigration system; a system that needs immediate and very serious reform." He said that Catholics (and presumably the rest of us) "need to vigorously question the timing, manner and focus of these latest arrests. Staged on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and barely two weeks before Christmas, these raids have disrupted hundreds of families in the immigrant community and frightened many thousands more." He adds, "Dramatic, get-tough arrests of more and more average workers will not solve our immigration crisis. In fact, such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness, and they don't strike at the root of the real issue: an immigration system that seems disconnected from the human and business realities of the American economy."
Thankfully, Colorado is home to thoughtful people like Helen Krieble, who is serious about workable immigration reform.