By Patrick Markey
After three INS raids in Philadelphia and Boston in the last month sent eight Irish back home, immigration experts say more workplace raids are possible as increased budgets and greater manpower help the federal agency chase up complaints and conduct more vigilant investigations.
Although the Irish have not been the main target of recent deportations, the latest INS figures show that deportations nationally have risen 78 percent in the last six months. That figure represents mostly those deported after hearings and to a lesser extent those caught in raids, who may have waived their right to a hearing.
INS officials say the increase represents their added manpower and financial muscle to execute the deportations process and that there has been no marked increase in the actual number of worksite raids, such as the Philadelphia and Boston incidents.
But immigration advocates indicated that more people have been sent home in recent worksite raids than before, and criticized the increased INS spending on investigations and deportations at a time when severe backlogs are hampering final clearance for green-card status and citizenship papers.
While the recent raids in the Northeast have sent a suspicious shudder through illegal communities, immigration advocates say the Boston and Philadelphia incidents are not part of a general crackdown on the Irish community. Rather, they said, the incidents represent the agency’s bolstered vigilance in following up on tip-offs and complaints.
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“Previously, we would have been able to safely say that people didn’t have to worry about raids like this, but that’s not the case now,” said Eamonn Dornan, legislative director of Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens.
“There is a trend toward more proactive investigations.
“When they do a raid like this and it’s successful, they’ve sent out a message that they are out there and on top of things. One raid is enough to tell employers, know that you could be next.”
In Philadelphia, two employees of the Irish Coffee Shop in West Darby were deported along with two customers in the restaurant who walked in during the raid in late May. The two customers were detained after their accents gave agents “probable cause” to question their status. Another employee was taken from the Marlene Diner, also in West Darby.
A week later, INS officials arrived in the early morning at an apartment in Boston’s Brighton section and took three Irishmen living there.
Although the INS does not discuss particular cases, experts reckon in both these incidents followed complaints from the local community.
INS officials point out that the recent 78 percent increase deportations represents an increased budget from Congress for more detention space, increased manpower to process detention cases and removal procedures. But nationally, worksite investigations have remained relatively static, according to Russ Bergeron, senior spokesman at the INS Washington headquarters.
In 1995, there were 5,000 workplace cases; in 1996, there were 4,750, and in 1997 the INS conducted 5,400 worksite investigations. No figures were available for 1998, Bergeron said. Not all cases result in raids on a worksite, he said.
In the INS district in New York City, worksite enforcement operations have also remained stable so far this year. In fiscal year 1996, there were 103 operations, approximately 25 a month, according to Alan Atkinson, a New York District INS spokesman. This fiscal year, New York district officials have conducted 76 operations on worksites.
Staff increases for special agents involved in investigations into worksites have also been small compared to growth in other departments, Bergeron said. And a widening of INS jurisdiction and duties, such as joint task force operations with other agencies, mean that staff increases do not translate into more investigations.
But, Bergeron said, higher numbers of undocumented aliens in “the interior” – away from border areas – meant that some districts are adjusting their methods to combat a higher rate of complaints.
Some critics believe that is misrepresentative of the agency’s
The California-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a non-profit advocacy group which monitors raids, noted that in fiscal year 1996, approximately 13,500 immigrants were arrested in worksite operations. That figure jumped to about 19,000 in 1997. No figures were available for 1998.
The increased collaboration between the INS and other law enforcement agencies represents a worrying development, said Sasha Khokha, coordinator for the group’s National Raids Task Force.
According to the group, the INS budget for 1999 includes $115 million and 745 new positions to address general interior enforcement, or the “investigation and apprehension of immigrants in non-border areas.” Another approximately $3.2 million has been earmarked for community-based enforcement, or programs to allow the INS to work more closely with state and local law enforcement agencies, the group says.
“It’s worrying because the raids are having a broader impact on communities,” she said, adding that raids create a threatening environment for all employees.
With almost two million people now waiting for their final citizenship certification, that the INS would spend so much on border patrols and enforcement, for some, is critical.
“In a situation where we have backlogs in citizenship and permanent residency, to penalize hard-working people is a travesty,” said Andrea de Urquiza, executive director of the Center for Immigrants Rights in New York.
For many Irish working here illegally there is another problem, however. Many illegal Irish residents are here overstaying the visa waiver pilot program, which allows them to enter and stay in the U.S. legally for up to 90 days. Under that program, however, they also waive their right to an immigration hearing if their are entered into deportation procedures, Dornan said.
Advice on rights during an INS operation