David Bennion: August 2008 Archives

Postville Part II

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway, DHS continues its campaign to terrorize immigrant communities for the administration's political ends.  Adam Nossiter reports in the NY Times today:

LAUREL, Miss. -- In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally.

Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.

As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been "identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S."

The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration's enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.

The mass rapid-fire hearings after the Postville raid took place in a temporary court facility on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An interpreter was later sharply critical of the proceedings, saying the immigrants did not understand the charges against them.

There is more from Scott Fontaine at the Tacoma News Tribune on the story of the US citizen locked up for seven months in immigration prison and nearly deported due to standard government circumvention of due process.  Notice the contempt with which all the key decisionmakers in the process treated Castillo.

Still, the posture of the article and the reason this is a news item is not that a human being was treated so poorly.  It's that this happened to a U.S. citizen.  The problems that this article uncovers--the failure of the system to obtain accurate results, the inability of many migrants to navigate a complex process--exist for non-citizens as well.  These problems didn't arise by accident.  They have been built into the system to allow the government to imprison and deport more migrants for political gain.

And the idea that the issuance of two "A numbers" for a single individual is a bizarre glitch is just not true.  It happens All. The. Time. 

SCOTT FONTAINE; Published: August 19th, 2008 01:00 AM | Updated: August 19th, 2008 10:33 AM

Rennison Castillo broke the law. He was punished for it. And he thought he had served his time. Instead, the last day of an eight-month jail sentence was the start of a seven-month nightmare that almost ended two years ago with Castillo - a Lakewood resident, Army veteran and American citizen - deported to Belize, a country he left as a child.

He spoke publicly about the incident for the first time earlier this month.

Immigration officials say his case was a rare mistake and that it has prompted closer scrutiny of citizenship claims. But advocates say it's the kind of mix-up that's bound to happen as the federal government aggressively moves to deport more criminal immigrants while limiting their access to the legal system.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Catholic National Migration Conference in Washington, D.C.  As has been my experience with previous conferences for immigration legal service providers, there is always more information on offer than time to absorb it.  It is at once an exhausting and rejuvenating experience—meeting new colleagues from other parts of the country, reconnecting with old ones, fine-tuning your practice, commiserating with others whose clients are also facing impossible situations.
sad Postville girl.jpg

There were many fine speakers at the conference, including Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat and genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.  But the stark contrast between two of the speakers in particular was impossible for me to ignore. [Image: Citizen Orange]

At the Tuesday morning plenary session, we heard from Julie Myers, head of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement wing of DHS.  I’ve expressed concerns about her leadership of the agency in this space before.   

Setting those issues aside for now, her presentation was notable for the near-complete misalignment between the issues she talked about and the issues of primary concern to those of us listening.  As a speaker, you have to know your audience, and she didn’t seem to.  She talked about her recent experience sitting in on a citizenship swearing in ceremony, and the happiness she felt at being able to witness this moment of such importance for those who reach that point.  Left unanswered was the question that must have immediately presented itself to most of the audience, as it did to me: Why, then, does ICE make it so difficult for migrants to attain citizenship?