Friday, December 22, 2006

Hispanic leaders urge moratorium on workplace immigration raids
'Families are being destroyed,' LULAC president says.
By Michelle Roberts


Friday, December 22, 2006

SAN ANTONIO — Hispanic leaders called Thursday for a moratorium on workplace raids such as the recent ones at six meatpacking plants, saying immigration reform in Congress should be completed first.

"This is the time to take action because families are being destroyed," said Rosa Rosales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

She and others at a news conference called on federal officials to halt raids targeting undocumented workers, saying such roundups harm workers who are simply trying to support their families.

"We would like the raids to stop — a moratorium on them — until we can come up with comprehensive immigration reform," Rosales said.

Last week, federal agents raided six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants and arrested nearly 1,300 workers. Federal immigration officials accused workers of stealing identities and Social Security numbers to secure jobs at the plants.

An estimated 12 million illegal immigrants are in the United States, but workplace raids have been relatively rare, with attention focused instead on border enforcement.

"For many years, that has been the status quo," said Jaime Martinez, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, a division of the AFL-CIO. Now, "they're trying to arrest as many people as possible until there's a guest worker program."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Marc Raimondi said that although Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has made it clear that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary, the agency must enforce the law.

"We're going to enforce the law because that's what our mandate is," Raimondi said.

Border security continues to be a high priority, but Customs has increased interior enforcement as well, Raimondi said. The number of workplace enforcement operations tripled between fiscal year 2005 and 2006, he said. The raid at the Swift plants was the largest ever.

In the past several years, President Bush and several members of Congress have proposed plans to allow more immigrant guest workers, but proposals have failed to get traction as factions fight over whether such programs should have time limits or provide ways for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status without returning to their home countries.

Rosales said she hopes immigration policy changes will be enacted after the Democrat-controlled Congress takes office in January. She said she plans to meet with congressional leaders to talk about making immigration policy a priority.