This week’s arrest of 500 immigrants, including 50 in Massachusetts, by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an operation that targeted sanctuary cities the Trump administration has deemed political opponents, is a vile act of cowardice by a president who has made dividing our communities the centerpiece of his governing strategy.
The four-day “Safe City’’ operation makes us anything but safer. Study after study has proved that immigrants, regardless of legal status, commit crimes at lower rates than native-born US residents. Two-thirds of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants have lived here for 10 years or more and work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities. Portraying them as criminals is morally wrong and an affront to our founding principles.
I know the struggle immigrants face firsthand, because my family came to America from El Salvador, a country engulfed in a cycle of violence and war that has left deep scars. Families were destroyed, the country’s economy was devastated, and fear led to deep distrust of the military. It will take generations to heal from the divisions created during the turmoil, which had ripple effects on the children, families, and communities of everyone involved. We should learn from world history that using extreme and devastating measures simply to score political points is dangerous.
ICE raids are counterproductive, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayers’ money. A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress estimated that the average cost of identifying, apprehending, detaining, processing through the legal system, and removing just one immigrant was $23,482. That is just the monetary cost. These raids also disrupt the lives of targeted immigrants, punish hard-working people, and force all immigrants — documented or not — to live in constant fear. The harmful immigration policies that ICE is enacting also put a financial burden on taxpayers and undermine law enforcement’s relationship with those in the immigrant community. While ICE believes it is capturing criminals, our entire society is losing out on everything that immigrants add to it.
Our immigration system must be brought in line with American economic interests and the humanitarian values upon which our country was founded. As the leader of a labor union representing thousands of immigrant workers in Massachusetts, I will continue our mandate to fight for common-sense immigration reform to protect all workers, secure our borders, and reunite families. We call on all sanctuary cities to continue to assist in keeping all families safe. These divisive ICE raids are not the solution to our broken immigration system. We should not applaud when heavily armed forces follow President Trump’s lead in demonizing an entire category of people.
These are not the values that represent this country. We are better than this, and the majority agrees with us — nearly two-thirds of Americans say they’d like to see a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants rather than deportations. We are the reasonable majority.
Armed officers rounding up and arresting immigrants feels like something that happens in other countries, not in our backyards. Trump has brought this horror show to our doorsteps. Boston — and Massachusetts as a whole — needs to send a message loud and clear: not this time.
Roxana Rivera is vice president of 32BJ SEIU.