Federal immigration raids on Eastern Shore workplaces this summer were politically inspired and designed to win the Clinton administration election-year headlines, a leading advocate for immigrants charged in Baltimore yesterday.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, made the comment during a noontime debate at the University of Maryland School of Law. Sharry was pitted against William Chip, general counsel of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors dramatic cuts in immigration.
Sharry said in an interview afterward that raids are the least effective tactic in deterring illegal immigration. He said immigration agents should instead try to put out of business employers who routinely hire illegal workers.
Raids are "what happens when there is a hot-button issue where appearances matter more than substance," Sharry said. "The government gets headlines, the employer gets a slap on the wrist, and the country gets deceived."
Chip said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) "should be doing more" raids and added, "We would agree that the INS under its current leadership is more show than substance. The INS is not given even a fraction of the resources it needs to enforce the law."
Federal agents arrested nearly 200 illegal immigrants at Allen Family Foods Inc. poultry plants in Cordova and Hurlock, and at Angelica Nurseries Inc. in Kennedyville. The majority of the workers, mainly from Mexico and Guatemala, returned voluntarily their homelands within 72 hours of the August and September raids, according to the INS. About 16 remain in custody or are free on bond awaiting deportation hearings.
Benedict J. Ferro, Baltimore district director of the INS, denied that the raids were politically motivated or ineffective. He said there is "clear evidence" that raids help get employers to comply with the 1986 law that bars them from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
"We go where the work is," Ferro said, noting that most immigration enforcement in Maryland is in the food-processing, landscaping, construction and restaurant industries. "What we really look is a balanced approach to enforcement. We are certainly not interested in putting people out of business," he said.
Employers in industries that hire large numbers of immigrants often say they cannot find American workers who are willing to eviscerate chickens, cut grass, dig ditches or wash dishes.
Chip contended that there is "no job so dangerous and dirty that Americans won't do it if given enough money to pay the rent, buy food for their kids and get health insurance."
Sharry said Americans are right to be concerned about illegal immigration but that legal immigration enriched the U.S. economy and culture and ought to be protected.
Pub Date: 10/31/96