Saturday, April 28, 2007

Intimidation won't solve immigration issue

Intimidation won't solve immigration issue
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
April 28, 2007

Last fall, I did a story that took me inside Cook County Detention Center. Being in jail, even as a visitor, was a very intense experience, and I knew I had to calm down before I went back into the office.

Another person would have found a quiet place to reflect. Me, I needed to see the good side of life. So I headed over to Little Village to have a burrito across the street from the open-air mall off 26th and Albany. It was a nice sunny day, much like it was on Tuesday this week, and the mall is always pretty busy.

Families were out shopping then, too. The families are what I always like seeing when I'm in a largely Latino place like that mall. You'll see a gaggle of kids, siblings and cousins, mamas, the little grandma and an aunt or two, all out together. Watching the little children goofing around, hearing the women chatting together -- oh, and munching that burrito -- lifted my spirits.

So I can't even imagine the terror that innocent people felt on Tuesday when federal agents swooped down on that mall. Just think: One minute you're out casually shopping for a pair of shoes, and next thing you know, officers carrying high-powered rifles are barking orders and slapping plastic cuffs on you and your neighbors while they look for the suspected members of a phony ID ring. All this happening while your children are right there.

I have no problem with the U.S. Attorney's Office going after criminals. Those officers have a job to do. But I have a big problem in the way this operation was handled. Do you really think the feds would have carried out a similar operation on Michigan Avenue or at Woodfield mall? Of course not. But they had no problem descending like the Gestapo in what's probably Chicago's largest Latino community and treating everyone -- including law-abiding U.S. citizens -- like common criminals.

According to media reports, among those the feds were tracking down was a man they considered highly dangerous who had ordered the murder of a competitor. How did the feds know that the suspect wasn't armed while in the mall and wouldn't start firing back, even though women and children were all around? They didn't.

Those same media reports also have the U.S. Attorney's Office giving details of where the suspects lived and operated. Why couldn't this raid have taken place at one of those locations where only the suspects would be facing guns, not everyday people? It sure seems as if a lot of innocent people could have been spared the high drama and fear that Tuesday's raid brought.

But could that have been the point of this exercise? To try to scare the living daylights out of the Latino community right before the march in support of immigration reform that is to take place Tuesday? Was the federal government trying to get out the message that they came to the barrio once and nothing is stopping them from returning again and again? Maybe sending a little reminder that they've got the march in their appointment book, too?

Whether that was the intention or not, that's what's being heard loud and clear in Latino and other immigrant communities. This time Little Village. Maybe next time it'll be Chinatown. Better be careful up on Milwaukee Avenue. Watch out Devon Avenue.

So if you are a supporter of immigration reform and are tired of human beings being used as pawns in this political game, get yourself down to that march and rally Tuesday. If you love the freedom of this country, then don't let the Bush administration trample it.

It's time to stand up and show your political leaders that intimidation, scary as it can be, isn't going to work. They need to hammer out changes to the immigration laws --and now.

If the Little Village actions were someone's idea of sending a message, show 'em it didn't send immigrants and their supporters back into the shadows but out into the streets this Tuesday.


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