Communities prepare for more immigration raids

by Bryan Salvage
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OMAHA, NEB. -- As federal agents increase immigration enforcement efforts nationwide, Shelley Schrader, senior director of community service for Omaha's Catholic Charities, isn't wondering if another major immigration raid will happen nearby — but when, according to The Associated Press.

In her role of senior director of community service, Ms. Schrader connects immigrants with social services and legal help. And she knows that role would only intensify if federal agents made another large-scale arrest as they did in 2006 at a Grand Island meatpacking plant.

Tensions are high among those who fear a stronger push toward immigration raids in this era of increased enforcement and continued calls for immigration reform.

Meanwhile, a national effort is under way to help civic leaders, those in social services and legal advocates, to plan more coordinated responses. Many of those people believe the mass-arrest method ultimately damages communities and families, including individuals in the country legally.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network in Washington, D.C., has already held training sessions in Dallas and Raleigh, N.C., as part of a larger effort to help communities prepare for raids. A two-day training session started Feb. 11 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It drew more than 75 people, including Chuck Berendes, an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities of La Crosse, Wis.

When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in nearby Postville, Iowa, last May, Mr. Berendes found himself answering legal questions, trying to track down people arrested and juggling other duties. If it could happen in a small town like Postville, it could happen in Wisconsin, too, he said.

Workplace arrests, most for being in the country illegally, have increased sharply to reach 6,287 nationally in 2008. That's a more than tenfold increase since 2003, AP wrote.

Congress has provided for more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement positions and more funding, and agents are getting better at their jobs, said Tim Counts, an I.C.E. spokesman. In 2005, the federal agency spent about $1.2 billion for detention and illegal immigration removal activities. For 2009, nearly $2.5 billion is budgeted.

Mr. Counts resents the term "raid." It connotes something that is chaotic with agents bursting in and people running, he said. "We do everything in our power to make sure that these operations don't look like that," he said. "They are always orderly, methodical, thorough and professional."

I.C.E. also considers humanitarian issues and releases some parents to return to care for their children. But immigration law enforcement is no different from any other law enforcement, Mr. Counts said. People who engage in illegal activity should expect family disruption.

The costs can be felt far beyond the individual level. Agriprocessors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November and blamed its financial problems on the May raid at its kosher slaughterhouse in Postville. Agriprocessors also operated a plant near Gordon, Neb., that closed because of the company's financial problems.

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