New Bedford raid clouds Bush's trip

Wednesday, March 14
President Bush went to Latin America to push his plans for free trade, but immigration, specifically last week's raid of a New Bedford business that employs illegal immigrants, obscured economic issues, most dramatically when the president reached Central America. Until the United States adopts a sensible immigration policy, and countries like Mexico do the same, proposals for increased economic cooperation among the United States and Latin American nations will have trouble gaining traction.

Mr. Bush's ideas on immigration are more enlightened than those of the fence-building far right in his party, but he hadn't done his homework on the New Bedford raid and it showed in Guatemala, the home country of many of the 300 workers arrested at Michael Bianco Incorporated. Mr. Bush's statement to journalists that no children were taken away from their families in the course of the raid is demonstrably false. Social service agencies estimate that more than 200 young children were separated from their families and many have not been reunited. Two young children were hospitalized after their nursing mothers were hauled off and a 7-year-old was reduced to calling a state hotline in search of her mother.

Punishing the innocent children of illegal immigrants does not constitute an immigration policy, nor does deporting illegal immigrants while the companies that employ them receive a slap on the wrist at best. Advocating the deportation of 12 million illegal immigrants, which is not realistically possible, doesn't constitute a policy either. Neither does building a 700 mile fence along the border with Mexico, where President Bush was yesterday.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon mocks the fence by likening it to the Berlin Wall, and with good reason. However, immigrants wouldn't be fleeing Mr. Calderon's country to the United States. if the economic policies of the new president's political allies hadn't ruined the middle class, leaving a massive poor class and a tiny wealthy group huddled in heavily protected enclaves. It isn't likely that Mr. Calderon, who narrowly defeated a populist candidate in highly suspect national elections, will fight for needed economic reforms.

The president and Congress, however, can approve a policy that gives illegal immigrants an opportunity to earn legal status while instituting lawful procedures to slow the flood of more illegal immigrants. Raids like the one in New Bedford punish the innocent and make enemies of potential allies.


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