Immigration Crackdown Debated ; A Lawsuit This Week Claims That a 'Get Tough' Raid in Georgia Crossed a Line
Patrik Jonsson writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
What happened in tiny Stillmore, Ga., either delights or disturbs observers of the nation's immigration debate.
As part of a get-tough campaign against America's estimated 12 million undocumented workers, immigration agents over Labor Day weekend raided a Hispanic community with connections to a poultry plant, sweeping up 125 people in a series of raids across three mid- Georgia counties, with Stillmore at the epicenter.
But was the raid legal? And was it right? In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Federal Court in Atlanta, the Southern Poverty Law Center claims the constitutional rights of six US citizens were violated by overzealous agents during the Stillmore raids. Moreover, they allege the government used "Gestapo-like tactics" as part of a deliberate campaign of fear ordered by the Department of Homeland Security.
In the absence of a legislative revamp of the nation's immigration laws, the clash over America's immigrants is headed for its day in court. And the emerging legal picture will either redefine the constitutional status of illegal immigrants, or, at least, clarify what steps communities and law enforcement can and cannot take to stem the flood of illegals across the city limits.
"The problem we face now is to what extent is this, even if it's constitutional, good policy - both from the perspective of its effect on US citizens, but, also, is this what we should be doing with taxpayer dollars?," says Victor Romero, an associate dean at the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State.
An investigation into document fraud at a poultry plant in Stillmore led to what immigration officials called a "targeted action" to round up specific scofflaws.
But witnesses say the strike sparked general mayhem. Residents describe people running desperately from their homes and hiding for weeks in the woods. At least one child was left behind by her fleeing parents. The dramatic shift in the aftermath from a busy town to near ghost town disturbed many local people.
The lawsuit claims that the raids "trampled on the constitutional rights of every person of Hispanic descent unfortunate enough to get in the way." Three plaintiffs - mobile-home park owner David Robinson, Tina Martinez, and her daughter, Justeen Mancha, - spoke to reporters at a press conference in Atlanta.
"I was shocked," says Justeen, age 15, describing how she was getting ready for school when more than a dozen black-clad men, at least one with his hand on his holster, entered her house without knocking. She was questioned, but not arrested.
Officials say agents conducted the raids lawfully. "We didn't target any race or ethnic group; we targeted illegal aliens," says Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Marc Raimondi. …