Immigration Crackdowns Test Support Services

In the past year, federal raids on illegal immigrants have surpised many communities across the country, the most visible of which has been the raid on the Agriprocessors kosher plant in Postvilleb, Iowa, as noted in an editorial in the New York Times yesterday.

New, more aggressive tactics for seizing illegal immigrants, including night time raids in neighborhoods, as well as legal charges being brought against those seized in the raids and the companies they work for are creating the need for new responses from nonprofits working with illegal immigrants and the foundations that support them.

Postville is the poster child of what is happening. As noted in the editorial, "Under the old way of doing things, the workers, nearly all Guatemalans, would have been simply and swiftly deported. But in a twist of Dickensian cruelty, more than 260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and most were sentenced to five months in prison." An essay by Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Spanish at Florida International University who served as a translater, details how the raid and the ensuing proceedings "crossed a line."

Tom Wilson, executive director of the Canal Alliance, labeled the ICE tactics "terrorist" actions in describing the way more than 125 immigrants in the Canal area of San Rafael, Califormia, have been placed in deportation proceedings after recent enforcement actions, as reported by the Marin Independent Journal. "It's like a assault," Wilson said. "These people are terrified." Wilson said children watched while their parents and other adults were taken away by authorities. Some were removed while accompanying children to the school bus, he said. Evidently, "Federal fugitive operations teams have stepped up efforts to remove illegal immigrants since ICE was formed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

Nonprofits and foundations have had to scramble to find new ways to support the razor thin front of professionals working with illegal immigrant communities, especially supporting children in the communities, many of whom are themselves American citizens.

The traditional approaches of funneling support to legal services have been supplemented by training support in schools and communities. For instance, training families that they are not legally required to open their door when agents are knocking, even with a piece of paper in their hand, has had an immediate impact on empowering families in San Rafael in the past few months of periodic raids.

Many small organizations able to respond to changing needs on the spot -- this is what the nonprofit sector does very best. Formalizing learnings and sharing them is what philanthropy can do to help.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:01 AM, Jul 15, 2008 in Peace and Justice | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment