U.S. Cracks Down on Immigrants

Finally, it has started. The expected crackdown on those living and working in America without the right papers has begun. This crackdown, a natural reaction of the U.S. government to the events of September 11, 2001 – a disaster blamed partly on laxity in U.S. immigration policy – is now on.

Those already caught in the dragnet are many. They include Mexicans, Asians and Africans. As should be expected, not a few Nigerians have also been suddenly yanked-off their menial “survival” jobs by the officials of the U.S. immigration department. They may start arriving in Lagos soon with long sad tales and no dollar.

Within the past weeks, hundreds have been arrested and now face the possibility of jail time and deportation. Many are currently in detention for allegedly using some form of false identification to obtain their jobs.

The expanding dragnet is believed to be a symbolism of the hardening stance by federal authorities toward illegal immigrants of all nationalities who they think might pose a security threat. There are, however, growing concerns as many get arrested, that several people that pose no threat to the U.S. government will be sent back to their home countries.

Buttressing this is the obvious fact that the law-enforcement officials are yet to link any of the people recently arrested – mostly Latinos and Africans – to terrorists. The working belief seems to be that undocumented workers are susceptible to being approached by nefarious groups.

This development is generating a heated debate in Washington, especially in the African communities and among Nigerians who argue that the undocumented workers are being unfairly targeted. Consequently, this new sweep has also set off a debate over the extent to which illegal immigrants, many of whom have been allowed to work unmolested in such low-wage jobs for years, will and should be prosecuted in a post-September 11 world.

Investigations reveal that the major thing that leads to the arrest of these illegal immigrants is the use of false Social Security Numbers (S.S.N.). Those under arrest are often unquestionably in violation of the law by using false Social Security Numbers or forged “Green Cards.” But the charge has hardly ever been used because of the number of illegal workers. It is believed there are an estimated 7 to 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S.

How such people get hold of the Social Security Cards, the pre-requisite to work in the United States, has always been a cause of concern for authorities. Some are obviously forged. Others are genuine because they were purchased from government officials. Recently, the Social Security Administration arrested some of its own employees in Chicago for selling numbers to illegal immigrants.

In 2000, the government arrested or indicted 219 people in 182 cases for using falsified SSNs. Last year, there were 242 subjects in 207 cases, and overall the Social Security Administration said that about 21 million names did not match up with Social Security numbers for any number of reasons – ranging from marriages to foreign names to fraud.

Interestingly, this new sweep of illegal immigrants is also affecting those that are legal immigrants as many are suddenly being laid-off from their jobs while several others on the job market are being refused employment because they are foreigners.

Just before the sad events of September 11, 2001, high-tech and other companies throughout the US were being accused of hiring one too many foreigners for jobs that African Americans or other citizens could easily qualify for. Speculation was that foreign workers were cheaper, harder working and easier to take advantage of because they had more to gain and more to lose in connection with a job.

The foreign worker trend, however, has suddenly come to an end, as employers become more wary of foreigners. Many foreign workers are suddenly being told to go for no reason. The INS is randomly questioning some without provocation. Co-workers are treating many differently while others are now afraid to travel out of the U.S., fearing they will not be allowed to re-enter.

A quick look at advertisements in the employment section of many Newspapers in the cities across America now shows notations like “U.S. Citizens only” or “US Permanent Residents only”. Although these existed in the past, they have become proliferated.

Interestingly, this type of blatant discrimination is actually illegal under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Only certain highly specialized government jobs may insist on such restrictions, which exclude temporary residents, asylum-seekers and refugees. Some employees cite INS red tape and lengthy processing delays as the reason for requesting only U.S. citizens. Although that explanation may be valid in some cases, it doesn’t explain the recent spike in citizen preferences.

The law is ambiguous in this regard. On the one hand, an applicant naturally has to be in the appropriate immigration status to be authorised to work. On the other hand, the law disallows discrimination based on immigrant status.

While the INS usually focuses on weeding out companies that are hiring illegal immigrants, the agency is now sending out guidelines on how to avoid immigrant discrimination. The present sweep on illegal immigrants and those suspected to be such, as well as the increasing restriction by employers on applicants that may be Americans but are originally from other parts of the world makes a non-sense of the immigration law, at least in reality.

A new dimension to the crackdown on immigrant is the plans by Police in Florida to arrest such people and detain them. Prior to now, only federal agents could deal with unlawful immigrants. With this new unprecedented plan about to be unleashed by Florida law enforcement officers, and later adopted by all the states in America, immigrants to this country are sure in for a tough time.

This pilot project which is explained by U.S. officials as representing a cross-over between federal and local law enforcement agencies as well as the sweep on illegal immigrants, especially Africans, is definitely going to create a new fear of the policemen. What the policies will not do is lead to the arrest of Osama bin Laden.

*This piece was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.

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