When good behavior comes from a place where you least expect it, that good behavior should be reinforced in hopes that it will become something other than an aberration. We slighted our government by not commending it for something it did correctly last year. Frankly, there are very few instances where we can point to our public officials and say “Nice job.” This was one of those instances, and not only did we drop the ball by not giving credit where it was surely due, but we condemned the incident and our officials in favor of defending individuals who entered our country unbidden and broke our laws.
An event took place in Postville, Iowa on May 12, 2008 that has faded from the memories of many of us who took note at the time. On that day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in conjunction with the Justice Department and the Department of Labor, led a raid on a kosher meat processing plant in Postville, arresting close to 400 illegal workers, about one-third of the employees of the company. Of those arrested, 300 were charged with identity theft for using fraudulent Social Security numbers.
Postville’s suffering in the aftermath of the arrests has been widely publicized in words and pictures. The Agriprocessors plant, the largest employer in the town, was eventually forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
As the largest immigration enforcement action ever conducted in the U.S., the Postville raid should certainly have had less of a fight securing space in our memories, given that our economy’s faltering was still under the national radar. Instead, as we went about running up the numbers on our credit card bills, immigrant rights groups were busy reinventing the events in Postville and turning the arrested workers into martyrs.
Groups defending illegal immigration under the guise of being “pro-immigrant” characterized the raid and subsequent treatment of the workers with terms such as “inhuman,” “abused,” and “unfair.” I toured a number of pro-immigrant websites that discuss the raid and noticed that the issues of identity theft and Social Security fraud were conveniently ignored by many or, worse, treated derisively as meaningless incidentals.
Public officials involved in the raid have suffered. Stephanie Rose, a nominee for U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, has been criticized for her role in the affair as an assistant U.S. attorney involved in the prosecutions, and her qualifications for the new post are now being questioned as a result. ICE has been roundly criticized, treated as a criminal aggressor just as it was in the Elvira Arellano fiasco in Chicago.
In the turmoil erupting over President Obama’s pending appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court, a ruling on May 4, 2009 by our highest court that further hamstrings our efforts to stem criminal immigrant activity may have gone unnoticed. In Flores-Figueroa v. United States, the court ruled that for an offender to be charged with identity theft, the offender must know that the fraudulent identification they are using belongs to another person. Apparently, all that is necessary for an illegal immigrant to commit legal identity theft is to claim ignorance of the origins of their ID. This would appear to shift the burden of responsibility for verification to the employer, in line with the Obama administration’s emphasis on punishing employers for immigration-related offenses.
Immigration reform has become a twisted joke, akin to campaign finance reform, term limits, and repairing our tax code. From the near-mythic Great Fence being constructed between Texas and Mexico, to the equine carcass of the worker visas contemplated by both the Bush and Obama administrations, the immigration issue is valuable for political leverage and little else. If we were serious about dealing with the problem we would enforce the laws we already have. Instead, we are chastising our public employees for doing their jobs while we kowtow to immigrant rights groups who are gaining financial and political power by legitimizing the status of individuals who cross our borders illegally and assume false identities as U.S. citizens.
Income redistribution is a popular topic these days because of the economic policies of both Congress and our president, but it is generally discussed as a policy affecting our own citizens. Condoning illegal immigration and identity theft creates trans-national income redistribution as billions and billions of dollars exit the United States to support foreign economies. There has been much talk in the headlines of President Obama’s plans to punish U.S. companies for their overseas operations, but very little public discussion about stemming the flow of illegally obtained capital out of this country. American businesses are a popular target when times are tough, and our government seems fearful of incurring the wrath of pressure groups. In a pathetic irony, our businesses are being turned into pariahs in the popular imagination, while millions of lawbreakers are becoming cultural icons and poster children for alleged abuse by the agencies who rightfully enforce our laws.
It may be a long, long time before we have another opportunity to thank our government for doing the right thing, so here goes. To ICE, the Justice Department, and the Department of Labor: Thanks. You did us proud.
(P.S. to ICE: About the Arellano thing, that turned out pretty well, too.)