If the chaotic immigration raid in New Bedford earlier this month troubled you, we have news: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, is just getting warmed up.
We know this because the New Bedford raid was part of a frighteningly ambitious plan laid out by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 -- and it hasn't received nearly enough scrutiny.
The plan is called Endgame, and its details are available online on our group's website (www.aclum.org/endgame.pdf). It's a 10-year campaign to track down and deport all the immigrants to the United States who are living and working here without proper documentation, by the year 2012.
Let's be clear: This means expelling roughly 12 million people.
We've seen Endgame at work already in other parts of the country, with ICE conducting more and bigger raids. In December, for example, the agency raided Swift & Company slaughterhouses in six states, arresting about 1,300 workers and deporting roughly half of them.
Already, on any given day, ICE holds approximately 26,000 people in detention. And on March 6, we got a chance to see Endgame at work on a large scale here in Massachusetts. We saw the human cost of an operation directed at 361 people.
The pace of raids will need to accelerate, however, in order to meet Endgame's aggressive deportation goals over the next five years. We'll see more of the surreal New Bedford-style tactics: arrest first, ask questions later. We'll hear more stories of the human suffering that results from such tactics: of nursing babies who become dehydrated when separated from their mothers, of 7-year-olds frantically looking for their missing mothers, and of minors being flown to distant states without adequate protection.
We'll see more people's rights trampled, and more families torn apart by ICE's race to deport in order to meet Endgame's staggering goal.
Obviously, the United States has the right to control who enters our country, as well as the right to deport those who are not authorized to be here. But the US Constitution also says that everyone's fundamental rights must be respected while it is being determined whether or not they have a right to be here.
Even most US citizens could not prove their citizenship on demand. If ICE raided your workplace, could you? If you're like most people, you don't carry documents such as your passport or birth certificate with you at all times. And in a free society, you shouldn't have to.
That's why those detained by ICE need protections such as the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, legal representation, and, when necessary, interpretive services. They need time and a fair chance to prove their case. It's also critical to make provisions for the children and other dependents of those arrested.
Some of those dependents are US citizens, even if the detainees themselves are not -- and all of them are human beings.
The pandemonium of the raid in New Bedford was deeply troubling in this regard. If ICE couldn't handle 361 detainees without violating people's rights and tearing families apart, how will they cope with millions?
The simple answer is they can't. There is no way to expel 12 million people without terrorizing and compromising the civil liberties of anyone who "looks foreign." Even US citizens, as well as immigrants who are here legally, will live with the fear of arrest.
ICE tactics call to mind sinister human rights abuses from other parts of the world. The United States went to war to stop Slobodan Milosevic's attempt to "ethnically cleanse" Kosovo in 1999. We should ask ourselves how, just eight years later, we came to be carrying out a policy that involves such similar tactics -- lightning raids, mass arrests, packed detention centers, and mass deportations.
We must stop it. It's time to bring operation Endgame itself to an end. We need an immigration policy that balances the right to control our borders with the civil liberties we must preserve in order to remain free.
Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Christopher Ott is communications director.
Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe