Last Wednesday’s immigration raid by ICE agents on the island of Nantucket has highlighted an adverse consequence of such raids on the civil rights of immigrants and on public safety. Due to the increased frequency of work site raids, such as the raid on the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford in March, and the growing cooperation around the country between local police and ICE authorities, many immigrants no longer report crimes that are being committed against them for fear of deportation or harassment.
The Boston Globe reported that several immigrants on Nantucket had been reluctant to step forward after violent crimes were committed against them. Reports from around the country of other immigrants with similar stories are all too common. One woman in Minnesota was afraid of telling her boss that she was being sexually harassed at work after the harasser threatened to report her to immigration authorities. Other workers have been bullied out of reporting on-the-job injuries.
While undocumented workers in this country have long been fearful of drawing attention to themselves, this concern has now spread to legal immigrants who fear harassment and employers who fear stiff penalties and criminal charges. Take, for example, the town of Stillmore, Georgia which has almost disappeared off the map since ICE agents raided the Crider poultry plant last Labor Day weekend. According to a story on National Public Radio last week, the Crider plant has been trying to recruit new employees from a community of Laotian Hmong refugees currently living in Minnesota in order to replace some of the nearly two thirds of its workforce that was lost in the raids and their aftermath. Though the plant did not comment, a Stillmore community leader claims that the employers are afraid to hire any Hispanics.
The past few months have seen a drastic increase in the number of work site and community raids by ICE officials around the country, the effects of which are often only reported by local media. Sanitation workers in Illinois. A military subcontractor in California. A poultry plant in Missouri. A dairy farm in Michigan. Mexican restaurants in Arkansas. A subcontractor for the U.S. Forest Service helping to plant trees in Idaho. Nursery workers in Ohio. An apartment complex in Washington. A manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. A fruit and vegetable processing plant in Oregon. These are just a few examples of ICE raids in the last three months.
Immigrants -- whether documented or not -- are being forced to trade in their right to make their communities safe in order to avoid deportation or extensive investigation into their legal status. What will be the effect on public safety? Who benefits when people are afraid to report crimes and sexual harassment of immigrants goes unchecked in the workplace? Is immigration becoming another chapter in America’s politics of fear?