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ICE Raid Renews Questions About Obama Plans on Immigration Reform

Last updated: July 31, 2020 | March 02, 2009 | Thomas Dixon
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Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided an engine factory in Bellingham, Washington and arrested 28 people for allegedly using fake i.d.’s to get jobs.

Though it was reportedly the first worksite immigration raid since President Obama took office, Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, afterwards said she didn’t know anything about it. She then ordered a review of the action.

The raid and mass arrests raise some curious questions about the Obama administration’s immigration policy. First, who’s in charge here? Both Napolitano and Obama have said they’ll crack down on employers who violate the immigration laws and exploit immigrant workers, not on the workers themselves. Last week’s raid suggests that either that message didn’t get out to ICE’s field offices, or the new leaders in charge aren’t truly committed to that plan. (In the past, ICE has been found to have conducted raids and arrests to meet quotas, according to an internal ICE report about a 2007 raid obtained recently by Casa de Maryland in a FOIA request.)

Last week’s raid also highlighted the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which Obama pledged to take on when he spoke on Spanish language radio stations the week before. The economic crisis has understandably taken precedence, but a coherent immigration policy laying out exactly who gets to live and work here and participate in the economy and pay taxes on their earnings is all necessary to development of a viable long-term economic policy. (This recent Brookings Institution study makes a case for allowing more of certain kinds of foreign energy scientists to work in the U.S., for example, and the blog Immigrant Power offers other interesting suggestions.)

In any event, the workplace raid last week shook up immigrants’ advocates.

“The President is clear about his plans for the economy, health care, education, Iraq and Afghanistan; we expect nothing less than a clear, consistent statement of his plan for immigration,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, in a statement.

“Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and the rest of the Obama Administration should continue the top-to-bottom review they are conducting into enforcement priorities and resource allocation, but that may not be enough. At a very minimum, until the new ICE Director who was named Monday is in place and an oversight procedure is working, these types of workplace raids should be put on hold.”

Another point worth noting is that while last month Napolitano ordered an internal review immigration enforcement initiatives within DHS, with a report due on February 20, that report has not been made public.

This morning, Amy Kubwa, a spokesperson for the agency, said that Napolitano is in the process of reviewing those reports. Although they are “predecisional documents” that won’t ever be fully released, “in the interest of transparency we will produce some public materials in the next days and weeks.”

We’ll report back on those public materials as soon as we get our hands on them.

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