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April, 2007



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Ice Storm Snuffs Out Liberty's Lamp
By Edward W. Miller, MD

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
(Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor)

However it wasn't nature's sleet and snow that on March 6th, tarnished America's image as a champion of liberty and personal freedom, rather, it was an ICE storm (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) blowing straight up from Washington, complete with troops, armed and in uniform, with police cars blocking access roads and helicopters circling overhead.

The torrent of public and media response to this sudden armed intrusion into a peaceful New England town serves to remind us that, like tiny European lemmings, which stampede themselves over the cliffs into the sea, we Americans are again being stampeded into self-destructive behavior over such a simple issue as immigration.

That inborn suspicion of any human not quite like our tribe has, through the centuries, served as the lever by which politicians have manipulated our attitudes toward foreigners both at home and abroad.

At 8:30 AM on March 6th, 2007, some 300 ICE agents and other law enforcement officers raided the Michael Bianca Inc. clothing factory on the New Bedford waterfront, with a warrant charging that the owner Francesco Insole and three managers had encouraged these illegal immigrants to work long hours and there and accept substandard working conditions at the leather goods factory. At least 300 workers were rounded up who could not immediately prove they were in the country legally were initially detained. And most were then transferred to nearby Fort Divans for further processing.

As the Boston Globe described the scene (Mar 7th) " a lot of people were screaming and crying," said Tina Pacheco, a supervisor who has worked at the company for 14 years. "They told American citizens to stand in one area and the people without papers to stand in another area. It was terrible, they were crying and didn't know what was going to happen." Witnesses said police guarded exits while other officers grabbed some of the fleeing workers and shouted at them to lie on the ground. Several officers drew their handguns . Workers tried to leave the building, but were brought back inside. The majority of the workers were either Guatemalan or Salvadorian..." Local immigration activists were outraged at the arrests yesterday."

"On the eve of federal legislation being introduced to fix the broken system, we should not be using precious federal resources to tear up families and devastate our communities," said Helena S. Marques, executive director of the Immigrant Assistance Center in New Bedford." This has been a total nightmare," Marques said. "I've never seen so much panic." Many of those impacted gathered last night at Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Church. Luis Matias came to seek help for the 9-month-old and 3-year-old daughters of his tenant, Rosa Gutierez, 26, of Guatemala, who was taken into custody. ". It's inhumane to take a mother away from her children," he said. "She's not a criminal."

Local citizens expressed concern to ICE officials about the children of these seized employees, , most of whom were already in school some time before their parents were arrested. During the raid, workers were processed in the plant cafeteria where many were fingerprinted and photographed on the spot. . All who could not show documents or prove legal status in the country were detained. Targeted by ICE, the factory, named Michaael Bianco Inc. had an $83 million contract with the US Defense Department to manufacture backpacks for soldiers and marines. During that day, ICE officials fitted at least 60 people with electronic tracking devices and released them to care for children or for health problems. Local officials of the Defense Security Service (DSS), a department controlled by the US Department of Defense (DoD) monitors security in plants with defense contracts such as Michael Biance, Inc. .had been informed of plans for the raid back in December. but were not involved in the immediate arrests and triage which followed.

On March 7th the day after the plant seizure, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick called Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, under whose Organization ICE has now been placed. and demanded that DSS workers be allowed access to the incarcerated workers . Chertoff agreed. However, by the time DSS workers arrived on Wednesday night, 90 workers had already been flown to either of two detention centers in southwest Texas or one in Florida. . By March 8th a federal judge who had been called to intervene by either the governor, Congressmen or the local mayor,, ordered the ICE not to move any of the remaining detainees and to give them access to lawyers. The judge also ordered DSS and ICE to work together

One of the town locals commented that the people arrested for immigration violations were, in reality, victims of this country's lack of a viable immigration policy...."adding" "All of them were working and working hard. Some of them had been here for 13 or 14 years..... Whose fault is it that 13 or 14 years have gone by and there is no comprehensive immigration reform yet?"

The workers' children were another issue. Many of them, born here in the US are automatically US citizens. What of their future if one or both parents are deported? Many of the immigrants were forced to borrow heavily, often mortgaging their homes in their native country, just to get here from countries such as Guatemala or El Salvador. The Bush Administration has repeated the same mistake made prior to the New Orleans catastrophe, when FEMA, which had been a well-functioning Federal program since it was initiated during the Carter Administration, was placed by Bush Jr. under the control of Homeland Security. As a result, officials of these two behemoths struggled for power, as no one understood who was in charge, and operations which should have been simple got tangled in such red tape as the world observed during the New Orleans tragedy.

Bush repeated the previous mistake by placing our Immigration Service, which had always been a division of the Justice Department, under Michael Chernoff's Homeland Security, and as a result, Chernoff, who spots a terrorist under every bush, now runs Immigration like his private militia. The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit against Chernoff for holding children of undocumented workers with their parents in converted prisons.

Over the past two years a campaign of racism, laced with terrorism threats has been spawned in Washington and its compliant media regarding the millions of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border. This bru ha ha has also been encouraged by those Republicans who, upset over Bush's poor showing in the polls, are eager to get their failed Afghan and Iraqi wars off the headlines. Responding to this non-crisis, and to the millions who marched in American cities supporting the immigrants, our President on May 15th, 2006 in a rare Oval Office address to the American people outlined "four proposals" he would welcome included in the forthcoming congressional Bills which were then being debated in both House and Senate. (San Francisco Chronicle 16 May 2006)

Though both the Senate and House passed their own immigration bills, no consensus has been reached. Senator Dianne Feinstein has been most outspoken on the senate side but Senator Kennedy is coming out with his own version, which Feinstein may or may not approve. Meanwhile Bush has militarized our southern border with 6000 members of a much-overworked National Guard, while a 700-mile fence is under construction along the California-Arizona border with Mexico since on Oct. 12, 2006 - the Senate passed the Secure Fence Act. The controversial fence will divide approximately one third of the southern border and is mightily disliked by our Mexican friends. On Bush's recent visit to Mexico, President Mexican President Felipe Calderon, in his public comments pointed out gently, that for the expense of one mile of the Bush wall his Mexicans could construct 9 miles of badly needed Mexican highway.

Neither fences, border police, ICE raids nor Homeland Security personnel nor volunteer militias will solve our immigrant problem We Americans might well learn from our European friends, who, before the wealthier EU nations admitted economically-disadvantaged Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland to their Union, invested hundreds of billions of EU dollars to raise the living standards of these poorer four, so that with their EU open border policy, the richer nations would not be inundated with economic refugees. It worked!

Just as the EU countries helped their poorer friends, we should invest in the basic economic structure of Mexico. The only thing keeping the wolf from Mexico's door today is the migration safety net, by which in 2005 Mexicans in the US remitted home some $20 billion dollars. We must also either destroy or rewrite NAFTA, which undercuts tens of thousands of Mexican farmers whose livelihood depends on selling their own crops at local markets. Impoverished, they immigrate north to the US. Arthur Daniel Midlands, Inc., which receives 40 percent of its income from US federal subsidies, now accounts for 25 percent of corn consumed in Mexico.

When J.B. Penn, US Under Secretary for agriculture, visited India two years ago, he was given a message by India's trade minister, Kamala Nath that Washington should heed.

Kamal warned that: "Importing food was as good as importing unemployment," adding: "We can open up markets as requested by Penn, provided the US is willing to provide a visa to every farmer displaced as a consequence of the import of cheaper and highly subsidized food,''(-Dec. 13, 2005 NEW DELHI) In addition to taking our Agri-Business millionaires off corporate welfare, we should offer Mexico a Marshall Plan with a government-enforced "living wage" for Maquiladora workers. Socially- sensitive foreign investment would, in the long run, prove less expensive in terms of dollars, human lives, and flawed relationships with our southern neighbors, than our hunkering down behind an expensive and failing Maginot Line, supported by voluntary militias and now, a National Guard.

The Golden Rule is not only a moral but an economic statement. Americans should turn off the light in Miss Liberty's torch and inscribe in large letters on her base: "I've got mine, to hell with you," until we relearn our lesson.

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