Airport Raids Nab Workers Not Terrorists

Up to 140 workers at Los Angeles International, Long Beach, Ontario and John Wayne airports were driven from their jobs either by arrests carried out at their homes or on the jobsite last week. Their crime was having a job at an airport -- as janitors, food service handlers, baggage handlers or screeners -- without proper documentation.

According to published sources a large and highly coordinated raid conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service the Department of Transportation and the California Department of Motor Vehicles as part of "Operation Tarmac." The workers may face charges of fraud, perjury and making false statements. Authorities say the goal of this operation is to ensure the safety of people who fly.

In the days since this raid, the U.S. Attorneys Office has put together a media campaign to highlight the "success" of Operation Tarmac and many immigrant's dreams turned into a nightmare. The timing of the latest episode of Operation Tarmac could not have come at a more suspicious time considering that President Bush was expected in California over the weekend for a fund raising event for gubernatorial challenger Bill Simon.

President Bush may point to a raid like this as success in the war against terrorism. He may also say this is proof of the promised fraternal goodwill between federal agencies that will form the newly proposed Department of Homeland Security. Instead, it should demonstrate the lack of progress in addressing the millions of workers and families who work without the benefit and protections of legal immigration status. The workers at the airports maybe portrayed as security risks, but in reality they are just working people doing their jobs.

The involvement of state DMV investigators in the California raids should also raise questions about Gov. Davis. It is likely that many workers caught in the raids were in the process of adjusting their immigration status. If Governor Davis had signed the bill as written and passed in the state assembly last year, how many workers would have had valid documents?

By involving the DMV in the raids, Gov. Davis has put up to 140 workers at risk of federal criminal prosecution for wanting a better life. Davis and Assemblyman Cedillo's proposed compromise on the driver's license issue should be treated with suspicion, caution and a truckload of salt by the immigrant community it was designed to assist.

Xavier Reyes is the spokesperson for CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

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