Seneca on Latinos & Homeland Security: Protection or Harassment?

April 26th, 2009 · 16 Comments

The post 9/11 period introduced several changes in the way normal life is conducted in the United States and for that matter the world. Terrorism became a focal point in the daily activities of most Americans in the immediate aftermath. The Bush Administration readily sought to ‘instrumentalize’ or create tools of existing law and institutions to deal with the new threat to national security. The Patriot Act was one of the new tools created to enable the US Government to gain greater control or awareness of the activities of US citizens, residents or any one permanently or temporarily living in the US. Many critics have described this Act as draconian and intrusive. The example usually cited is the FBI’s ability to monitor public libraries to ascertain what type of reading material is being checked out and by whom. Most Latino advocacy groups normally do not voice many complaints about the Patriot Act other than joining the voices that remain critical of its potential excesses. The ease of obtaining a ‘FISA’ or Federal Court permission to listen in on telephonic or other electronic voice or data messages also became more evident after 9/11.

However, one additional key instrument or tool generally not readily recognized by the American public is the use of existing federal immigration law to shield or enable detection of foreign or alien threats to the use. The fact is that all of the foreigners who participated in the destruction of the World Trade Towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the foiled attempt to destroy the Capitol or the White House by a fourth hijacked commercial aircraft entered the US legally with visas. This means they were vetted and approved by US Consular officers abroad to enter the US with non-immigrant visas.

Subsequently, in 2002 – 2003, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in the biggest and most significant re-organization of the Federal government since the 1947 National Security Act which created the Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the Intelligence Community. In this re-organization, the old INS (Immigration and Naturalization Agency) was moved from the Justice Department to this new entity. However, the INS became CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) in DHS. It became a mostly benefits oriented agency with no real enforcement capability. A new component or agency was created in DHS: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This entity is comprised basically of the previously known INS immigration criminal investigators or enforcers together with the US Customs’ old criminal investigative agents. These ICE agents are known as 1811 agents. This means that they are gun-toting federal law enforcement officers.

Basically, what occurred is that at the Bush Administration’s request, Congress stripped both the old INS and Customs of their criminal investigation and enforcement charter. ICE  in its first two years spent an enormous time trying to get organized and simply to get Congress to appropriate funds directly to the new agency and not through the re-designed Customs and Border Protection component of DHS. It should also be pointed out that ICE quickly became the preferred instrument or key agency on a daily basis to answer Congress and the increasing US public concern over illegal immigration.

Both Governor Tom Ridge and Secretary Michael Chertoff the first two heads of DHS reportedly noted that DHS had three political monumental challenges: the first was a terrorist attack, the second a natural disaster and thirdly a ‘slow-motion growing illegal immigration problem.’ CBP, along with its component agency the Border Patrol, has border enforcement only in terms of detection and prevention of illegal entry into the country. ICE has the primary responsibility for ‘interior or internal enforcement’: job site investigations and raids, and challenging any suspected illegal foreigner. However, ICE quickly began to play a ‘numbers game’ in order to appease the grousing political leadership and expose driven media carnival barkers. It did this to establish its bona fides thwarting illegal entries and potential terrorists as the new action agency in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). This ‘numbers game’ simply means that although ICE is charged with investigating both immigration and customs violations of law, it invariably seeks to go for cases which yield higher reported numbers of arrests, and detention and removals: immigration cases. Customs criminal cases are laboriously long and rarely have high number of arrests. Hence, the way forward at ICE became busting persons illegally entering the US or overstaying their non-immigrant visas or undocumented residents.

Most illegal entries or undocumented residents are largely Latinos primarily from Mexico and Central America (almost 70% of the estimated 12 million who are undocumented or illegal residents). ICE, as the new Migra, increasingly is perceived by these communities as behaving like a ‘secret’ police. Under immigration law, ICE can hold a suspected violator of immigration law, especially if he is a foreigner, without the normal virtues of law: this includes no basic civil rights like having an attorney, or calling a relative, ability to hold suspects indefinitely without a ‘due process’ or keeping the suspect in a ‘legal limbo.’ Immigration law, unlike the basic tenets of US law, virtually presumes guilt until able to prove innocence. Here lies the draconian and un-American aspect of enforcing immigration law. Yet, ICE’s primary mission is to strongly enforce immigration law. This has had a heavy toll among the Latino community. The reasons as noted include the high number of Latino illegal entries and undocumented residents plus the ethnic or racial profiling by ICE as well as by CBP’s immigration inspectors and the Border Patrol. Ethnic profiling is a sensitive issue among Homeland Security’s law enforcement community which include not only ICE and CBP but also the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the US Coast Guard and the US Secret Service. TSA and ICE are the two agencies constantly accused of ‘racial’ profiling along with CBP at the ports of entry. The constant and numerous reports by the Middle Eastern (especially Islamic) embassies and  communities in the US of being continuously selected for ‘special’ or secondary treatment or vetting at airports, boarding cruise ships, at ports of entry (land or airports), at sports events or randomly picked are indicative of the problem. On job sites, especially in agriculture and construction, the Latino population bears the brunt of continuous challenges by ICE to present proof of citizenship or ‘green’ card or similar document conferring official status. It is not unusual to hear that native US born Latinos are rounded up and sometimes held in detention. Latino advocacy groups often decry this situation. But to date no Congressional Judiciary Committee comprehensive hearings have been held or focused on this situation confronting the Latino community. Neither has a forceful and collective vocal outcry been detected among the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Again, the ICE policy of randomly and selectively targeting Latino job-sites and gathering points has plainly created a menacing atmosphere of ‘big brother’ watching, snitches, racial profiling, family disunity, fear among the responsible and working elements about the detention and removal (deported or un-voluntarily returned to country of origin). It is incumbent on the Latino leadership to seek explanation and justification for DHS/ICE policy and implementation of said policy. With Lou Dobbs now being joined by a host of other nativist public commentators with the drum beat of pressuring DHS/ICE to take even more draconian measures will only increase loathing or backlash to these immigrants. Hence, the road to resolving humanely and responsibly the illegal immigration conundrum will be infinitely more difficult. DHS/ICE must embark on a education program on how illegal or undocumented persons should be treated and helped. Any attempt to resolve constructively or mitigate the challenge of these immigrants’ irregular basis must be seen as positive and not antagonistic by the Latino community. This is especially critical if this anti-immigrant sentiment were to become anti-Latino or anti-Hispanic. A major policy change if not modification is imperative as soon as possible. Plainly, the current economic uncertainty is not conducive to a constructive resolution of the problem. However, any attempt to resolve the question will require continuous and exceptional leadership from both the President and the Congress with an unbiased media. This should include the participation of the Latino community in defining the parameters of any legislative remedy. Again, strong, determined, unwavering leadership is key to any success in treating the challenge in a positive way. Meanwhile, ICE should stand down many of its more egregious raids and intimidation activities as the country prepares to debate the immigration issue. To have raids and media headlines instilling fear and enabling backlashes in the midst of a public discourse on the subject can only be counter-productive. Perhaps, the new leadership at DHS starting with Secretary Janet Napolitano can set a new and balanced pace.

Tags: Civil Rights · Congressional Hispanic Caucus · Department of Homeland Security · Detention · Immigration · Seneca

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 india blanca // Apr 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    “The fact is that all of the foreigners who participated in the destruction of the World Trade Towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the foiled attempt to destroy the Capitol or the White House by a fourth hijacked commercial aircraft entered the US legally with visas. This means they were vetted and approved by US Consular officers abroad to enter the US with non-immigrant visas.”…this tragic but important fact seems to have disappeared from our national conscience…the fact is that instead of endangering the right to our freedoms here at home with unconstitutional legislation such as the Patriot Act, we should attempt to devise a more effective method to conduct background checks for those who seek to enter our country legally…this legality allows people such as the terrorists that conducted 9/11 to navigate our system with shameless ease…while the majority who enter illegally through our southern border tend to be people who are yearning to build a future for themselves and their family…we need to recalibrate our thinking and get a clear understanding of who poses a threat to our national security while we embrace all those who come to our nation eager to become productive members of our society… usual, great piece Seneca, invaluably informative and thought provoking…

  • 2 DelToro // Apr 26, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    We don’t need to recalibrate anything other than the fact that our laws should be enforced. You should not get special treatment because your home country sucks and you “want a better life”. Our country cannot handle non-stop illegal immigration. Our resources will not be able to compensate forever. Coming into this country is a crime. The first time it is a civil misdemeanor. If you do it again it is a felony. Crying about a better life should not trump law.

  • 3 DelToro // Apr 28, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I just re-read your thoughts above and have a question for you. When will you offer a viable solution to the problem of illegal immigration rather than just random suggestions on what
    “everyone else” needs to do to appease the illegal immigrant crowd? You say that “family disunification” is a problem. What stories do you have other than the half dozen ones I know about in the media? Only once was a mother seperated from her infant and that was handled immediatley. But in the media it is talked about as if it happens hourly. You say that the media needs to quit participating in the “fearful headlines of raids” but the media is one of the biggest advocates of continual illegal immigration. You say the “nativist” like Lou Dobbs are being joined by others and becoming more vocal but our government is doing nothing that would indicate they are listening. By your won admission 70% of illegal immigrants are from Latin America so should we pat down all the Irish, Germans and Jews in an attempt to pretend we don’t know where the real problem is? You act as if the fact that people are coming here “for a better life” should trump the rule of law. Are you latino? If you are I would counter that your sympathy for this group belays your nativist bias towards rewarding your brethern. When will you offer a solution other than unchecked illegal immigration anytime and anyplace someone feels like a “better life”? It is not incumbunt upon this nation to destroy itself because other nations cannot help their citizens. For all the great waves of LEGAL immigration in this country there was an end. There is no end when the government is culpable in the great lie that is Latin American illegal immigration. This nation cannot have unchecked illegal immigration forever. Our resources cannot handle it. One of the biggest lies you have fostered is that somehow your skin color affords you the ability to be unbiased. I would say you are a prime example of the hypocrisy of this subject. You are accusing others of nativism while practicing it yourself. How about offering up some real solutions to the problem and quit all the accusatorial rhetoric. We have enough La Razaists to handle that part.

  • 4 BettyM // Apr 28, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Good article – I agree with IB.

  • 5 Pati Politics // Apr 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    “With Lou Dobbs now being joined by a host of other nativist public commentators with the drum beat of pressuring DHS/ICE to take even more draconian measures will only increase loathing or backlash to these immigrants.”

    We are already seeing this with people blaming the swine flu on the immigrants and with reports of more racism and unjust police actions toward Latinos.


    What makes you assume that Seneca is a “La Razaist”? I don’t see him advocating secession or the creation of a Raza party or anything like that in this blog post or in anything else that he has written on this blog.

  • 6 Anna // Apr 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    If the government really believed that illegal immigrants posed a threat to national security, they would have deported them years ago. As for these raids, they’re just business transactions between private prisons and the government. Prisons are now on the stock market, and they get tax money for every illegal immigrant they house. In fact, prison stock is on the rise despite the horrible economy.

    I agree that there is no leadership on this issue–anywhere. These are human rights issues, but the organizations that lobby for the oppressed throughout the world don’t lobby for oppressed Mexicans. As for the Hispanic Caucus, their solution to everything seems to be CIR, but that doesn’t address the root of the problem, which is NAFTA

    As long as NAFTA and other similar ‘trade’ agreements permit corporations to operate in Mexico without any environmental regulations, or basic respect for human rights, Mexicans will flee. People won’t stay in a place where the water and soil are polluted. Sadly, our own government underwrites the corrupt Mexican government and ruling class. (Google information about the corporate pig farms in La Gloria, Veracruz , and their connection to the current health scare.)

    As for Obama, he said during the campaign that he would renegotiate NAFTA, but I won’t hold my breath. He is in the pocket of these corporations more than any previous Democrat. He doesn’t even feign resistance. One would think that the possibility of a pandemic originating on our doorstep would spur the government to ensure our safety by renegotiating or eliminating NAFTA.

  • 7 Pati Politics // Apr 28, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Anna, I agree with you on NAFTA. If it were renegotiated with worker protections and some regulations for the environment, then perhaps we wouldn’t have this big migration to the US.

    The Hispanic Caucus probably won’t want to change NAFTA since their members receive so much from corporate entities and PACs. Former Rep Torres wanted NAFTA to have some basic water and sanitation protections, but that didn’t happen:

    The Hispanic Caucus does seem to throw out comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) as a solution to so many things, but it is only one piece. Without more stable jobs south of the border and a basic quality of life, people will always be leaving.

    One thing missing from this piece is the economic impact of detention. I wonder how many contracts have been awarded to these companies that build the jails and detention centers for the immigrants (the immigrants who as Seneca points out did not cause 9/11).

    Two years ago, Loretta Sanchez, who sits on a Homeland Security Committee was asking questions about immigrant detention, but what came of it?

  • 8 Michaelr // Apr 28, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    All this is a façade to rationalize the building of more prisons, more forced intrusion into people’s lives, and more political oppression. Congress wants a more ignorant public, working so hard they don’t have time to involve themselves in the behavior and actions of their Congressional and Senatorial representatives. The U.S. agricultural industry, who cannot function without undocumented illegal workers, now doesn’t mind pocketing the minimum wage earnings of these undocumented laborers as long as ICE is there to quickly arrest, imprison, and deport those undocumented laborers. All this front page, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck media driven hysteria about illegal immigrants doing this and illegal immigrants doing that provides ample cover for the ongoing larceny of Wall Street, the public pilfering by U.S. Banks and credit card companies, and the U.S. government’s collusion with Corporate America to undermine union labor, disenfranchise public education, and minimize public services while raising your taxes. And those same public servants, who are asking us to do with less, are secretly voting raises for themselves and their staffs. The gross hypocrisy of this whole issue and the mass hatred being generated for these poor people, only undermines the services and comforts we’ve gone used to for 3-4 generations. Who is going to pick that fruit and those vegetables? Who is going to clean you toilet?

  • 9 DelToro // Apr 28, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    “Who is going to pick that fruit and those vegetables”? “Who is going to clean you(r) toilet”?

    Are you kidding with these questions?

  • 10 theKaiser // Apr 29, 2009 at 11:05 am

    You’re not going to be picking fruits and vegetables, or spraying chemicals on them, mowing lawns and landscape services, performing nanny services, maid, and housecleaning services, industrial janitorial work, or restaurant grill, busboy, or equipment maintenance work, tree and arbor maintenance, roofing repair, maintenance and new construction, asphalt, tar repair and construction, or making hamburgers at Carl’s Junior. So take your blinders off.

  • 11 DelToro // Apr 30, 2009 at 8:36 am


    Did you grow up in this country? If so. Who do you remember doing this work when you were young? This is a wage issue. One area I agree with Anna on is that of corporations making this problem worse. Depressing wages by using illegal labor. Take your blinders off and pull your head out.

    P.S.- I already mow my lawn, clean my house, take care of my kids, cook my hamburgers, repair my roof, and can’t believe how difficult it is to order a meal at Carl’s Jr. in english. Another bad idea I might add. Trying to raise a family of 8 kids while working the grill at the local Carl’s Jr.. But I guess thats what tax payers are for.

  • 12 Anna // Apr 30, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Justice Carlos R. Moreno for the Supreme Court!

  • 13 Reyfeo // May 2, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Great post DelToro! Seneca needs to provide some solutions!…All I hear is whining.

  • 14 DelToro // May 3, 2009 at 10:23 am

    While Seneca provides a lot of good info here there is a very large bias towards one group. Why don’t we take a look at how and why Asian Americans prosper in this nation. The lack of a land bridge and a lack of a lobby to allow complete lawlessness because of a shared heritage might be at the top of the list.

  • 15 DelToro // May 3, 2009 at 10:24 am


    I would much rather see Moreno than Sotomayor. How about an Asian candidate?

  • 16 The Other Visceral Reaction when “illegal immigrants” are mentioned // Sep 10, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    […] the end, I feel that the treatment of undocumented people within the broken immigration system is more hurtful than the government term President Obama used […]

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