The raids: politics and innovations

The raids last week on six meatpacking plants in the United States were not just unprecedentedly encompassing and large–simultaneously carried out over five states and arresting 1,200 people–but employed some innovative policing techniques as well:

*According to Bill Conroy in Narco News, the ICE gained access to the Swift plants through administrative warrants, i.e., inspections of paperwork in the company’s possession. Besides meaning that the investigations preceding the raids didn’t dig up enough information on the alleged identity-theft ring to obtain criminal warrants, this procedure also incorporated the Democrats’ humanitarian strategy for fighting illegal immigration; instead of fences and cameras, prosecutions and prison, Democrats have been saying that we should be going after the employers that hire the migrants. This raid represents, at least in form, part of a bipartisan solution.

After the ICE obtained access to the plants, what came next utilized migrants’ fear, which has been well cultivated over the past year:

ICE settled for administrative warrants authorizing its agents to dig through I9 Employment Verification documents at the Swift plant sites, and then ICE used the warrants as the pretext to question and detain workers. […]

In essence, the undocumented workers at the Swift plant who were detained likely thought they had to produce documents or respond to the questions raised by ICE agents raiding the plant, when, in fact, a lawyer might well have advised against that openness.

But even one DHS source told Narco News that the spirit of the law soon breaks down when workers are confronted with dozens of agents in raid jackets and guns asking them questions while their employers seemingly are cooperating with the agents. Lawyers are rarely on hand for those pressing moments in the course of “justice.”

*It seems that an unknown number of the people rounded up were shipped to detention centers several hours away, without being able to communicate with friends, family, or lawyers. Normally detainees are kept in the areas where they are arrested, but a new strategy of roving internment seems to be in place. This could be looked at as a kind of domestic rendition, a tactic imported from its successful run in the war on terror that gives the state maximum flexibility and the detainees’ support networks maximum uncertainty. Another technique for the mechanisms of control assert their jurisdiction over the migrant’s body.

(It also seems possible that this remote imprisonment is in part a response to the police authorities in certain areas who were unwilling to assist the federal authorities: The police chief in Grand Island, Nebraska, refused to let his officers participate, and the detainees from the plant there were sent six hours away.)

*The reason given for the raids was not primarily to crack down on illegal immigration but to stop the terror visited on innocent Americans by migrants’ resorting to identity theft to get their jobs:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday the investigation uncovered a “disturbing front” in the war against illegal immigration, in which illegal immigrants are using the identities of U.S. citizens to obtain jobs.

“Violations of our immigration laws and privacy rights often go hand in hand,” he said. “Enforcement actions like this one protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans while striking a blow against illegal immigration.”

Only 65 of the those arrested, less than 5 percent, were charged with any crime at all, and probably few or none of those will be found to have committed identity theft. (It’s considered identity theft because workers use valid social-security numbers to legally get their jobs; usually, however, the numbers they “steal” are from nonexistent people or are dummy numbers used by hundreds of people.)

Of course, it’s ridiculous to claim that the ICE spent this much time and money to protect the legal identity of individual Americans. But if “identity theft” is taken in the larger, social sense, the reasoning is clearer: Migrants are stealing our identities as Americans.

*These motives, much more than campaign contributions and union-busting, approach an explanation of the rationale behind these raids.

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