Hispanic lawmakers hopeful on immigration
Hispanic lawmakers are more hopeful than ever that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will end workplace raids by immigration enforcement officials. Several lawmakers emerged elated from a closed-door meeting Thursday with Napolitano, held one day after she promised to investigate a raid of an engine shop in Bellingham, Wash. Earlier this week. During the meeting with the lawmakers, Napolitano said she had “grave concerns” about the raid, in which 25 people were detained for deportation hearings.
According to CHC members, Napolitano herself brought up the Bellingham raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, preempting questions from lawmakers who have long sought to end the policy of raiding workplaces to target workers.“The meeting was very, very constructive. We’re happy,” said CHC Immigration Task Force Chairman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).“We shared with her our concerns about the raid. She shared with us that she had grave concerns about the manner in which it was carried out and that it’s under evaluation.”“I think the most important words were that she had ‘grave concerns,’” Gutierrez said.
Napolitano told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday that she would look into the raid. “I want to get to the bottom of this as well,” she told the panel. Napolitano also reiterated the administration’s commitment to focus on the employer side – rather than the employee side — of workplace enforcement.The Tuesday raid is the first conducted by federal authorities since President Obama took office. Although the raids had become a staple of the Bush administration’s approach to immigration enforcement, Napolitano told lawmakers on Wednesday that she was unaware of the raid until it was over.
In Tuesday’s raid, 25 men and three women were suspected of being undocumented aliens working in the United States illegally. All but three – who were released for humanitarian reasons – were detained for immediate deportation proceedings. After having to temporarily give up on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the CHC and its allies have pivoted to pushing for a scaling-back of the tough enforcement provisions enacted under President Bush’s watch. Some Republicans were as furious as the CHC was pleased with Napolitano’s remarks at the hearing. “Let me see if I have this straight,” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Lamar Smith (Texas), one of the strongest defenders of the Bush policy, said in a statement. “ICE agents arrest a criminal illegal immigrant gang member, discover he had worked illegally with other illegal immigrants at a manufacturing plant, begin an investigation of the employer and arrest the illegal immigrants to get more facts … and the secretary orders an investigation of ICE? “This sounds like good police work, not something to investigate,” Smith continued. “Secretary Napolitano’s decision is beyond backwards.”
Hispanic Democrats had been growing frustrated with what they saw as a lack of commitment from the Obama administration to even consider rolling back the raids policies. Hispanic voters were critical to Obama’s election victory in November. Exit polls showed Obama won the constituency with more than a 2-to-1 margin. He also won several states with large Hispanic populations that were carried by President Bush in 2004, including Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Gutierrez, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and others described Napolitano as giving a firm commitment to thoroughly review a Bush administration policy that has resulted in dozens of workplace raids and the deportation of hundreds of immigrants. The CHC has complained that the raids break up families and communities while doing little to punish the employers who hire undocumented workers.