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VA Immigrant Advocates Call ICE Raids "Out of Touch"

May 15, 2008

Richmond, VA - Advocates of immigrants' rights say last week's raid on a federal courthouse construction site in Richmond illustrates what's wrong with the U.S immigration system. State police and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rounded up 29 men and four women working on the project. On Wednesday, two of the detainees were referred to a grand jury on immigration-related charges; the rest face deportation.

Tim Freilich is legal director for the Immigrant Advocacy Program of Richmond's Legal Aid Justice Center. He says the raid underscores the need for updated laws that could accommodate visiting workers.

"Instead of heavy-handed enforcement of a set of immigration laws that are completely out of touch with economic reality in the United States right now, what we really need is stronger enforcement of the existing labor laws, that are in place to protect all workers from being abused and exploited on the job."

Workplace raids don't round up terrorists, Freilich adds - but too often, net adult parents of children who are U.S.-born citizens instead.

"I don't think that most Americans understand the damage our current federal policies are causing an entire generation of U.S. citizen children, of immigrants who are growing up in the U.S. When you deport the primary breadwinner of a family because that individual is undocumented, we're seeing those folks suffer."

Much of the local economy depends on documented and undocumented workers, he adds, citing building trades as an example. Freilich says as many as one-quarter of all drywall installers are undocumented, for instance, and deporting them all would mean chaos for the construction industry.

John Robinson/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - VA