By Ricardo Sánchez
National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights guest blogger on immigration and education
U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, proclaims these days that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are doing all they can to “control our borders,” part of which entails workplace enforcement.
Truth is, since well before World War II, immigration authorities have, at best, selectively enforced our laws. Selectively means, for one, not straying into agricultural fields during harvest seasons. To be fair, agriculture is only one of many industries that have thrived using undocumented workers—count hotels, restaurants, forestry, fishing, construction, roofing and others in the mix.
So that taxpayers believe
immigration officials are vigilant in their duties, periodically we see
television footage of workplace raids where a handful of workers are detained.
But what we don’t see or hear about is more telling. None of us heard two weeks ago of ICE agents apprehending an 18-year old at a south Seattle-area apartment complex while getting into her car to go to high school, did we?
They guessed right. She was in the U.S without legal papers. Without providing or ensuring that she had
legal advice, this frightened young woman went before a judge just last week to
be told that she could leave the country voluntarily, or face further
detainment and a hearing at a later date. She chose to leave the country—dreams dashed for this high school senior
who aspires to become a doctor.
Ah, another victory for ICE and
We’re easily duped. No, worse—we’re silently assenting to duplicitous immigration practices that keep immigration agents at bay during harvest seasons. Why? Because for consumers, it ensures we continue to pay lower prices for agricultural products than any industrialized nation in the world.
If Chertoff and ICE were to take their job of “controlling our borders” seriously, they would be conducting raids in the apple fields of eastern Washington even as you read this article. They know, however, that members of our own congressional delegation would intervene to stop the raids, just as they have in recent years in Washington and across the nation.
The reason: ill-timed raids would
spell economic ruin for our state’s largest tree-fruit industry—valued at more
than a billion dollars annually. Washington grows well over half of the apples
consumed in our nation. The stakes are large.
But individuals in bus stops, or
student scholars on their way to school, remain fair game. It’s been this way for decades, but
it’s not my version of “The American Way.”
If that ideal guided the national
conscience, we would stand collectively and say to Michael Chertoff and the
Congress: Until and unless you are willing to enforce our laws, no exemptions
for industries with powerful friends, keep your hands off innocent young
people, especially promising students whose only “wrong” was obeying their
parents when they were brought into the country, some as infants.
One would hope that if the nation’s top lawmakers can force the administrative agencies to not enforce our laws during select times of the year—and they do—they might also find the courage and compassion to help deserving student scholars who want to obtain college degrees and contribute to our nation as law abiding citizens that they now only can dream about.
Ricardo Sánchez is chair of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, and is a U.S. citizen who lives in Seattle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.