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Meeting with immigration officials shows differing worldviews on immigration

August 17, 2011

By Sister Kathleen E.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials with a group of others from the Omaha Together One Community (OTOC), a community organizing group.

The purpose of the meeting was to let ICE know that there are people in Omaha who are aware of the increase in detention and deportation of immigrants in this area.  We wanted them to know that we are informed, interested and committed to supporting the rights of immigrants.  I am part of the OTOC Just Immigration Action Team as part of my work on this Sisters of Mercy Critical Concern.

The meeting was frustrating in that we obviously have very different world views.  The ICE officials made it clear that they are “upholding the law,” which we should get changed if we don’t like it.  They seemed defensive, saying a couple of times that they are not the bad guys, and didn’t want the meeting to be confrontational.

When questioned about ICE’s public commitment to focusing the effort called “secure communities” on criminal aliens, and our perception that most of the people picked up are ordinary workers who are not a threat, they insisted that the majority of the people detained and deported are in fact criminals. They would not agree that the recent criminalization of being in the U.S. without documents, or with documents that immigrants must obtain (even though they are fake), in order to work, does not mean that the individuals are “criminals” and security threats.

They also asserted that the treatment of undocumented immigrants in the county jail is well supervised by ICE, and denied that immigrants are housed with the general population of the jail.  Our visitation program in the jail provides us with first-hand knowledge of the harsh reality the immigrants live there, including being mixed with the general population.  Responses to questions about alternatives to detention, which would be less costly, were vague and unhelpful.

These and other points of difference were unresolved.  However, the advocacy group agreed that we had achieved our goal of letting them know who we are, and that we want continued connection with them.  We believe it was a worth-while first contact, and are pleased that we got contact information from at least two of the ICE officials.  We plan to try to continue the relationship.

The Sisters of Mercy during their governance meeting in Chicago earlier this summer organized a public witness against deportations that tear families apart and they called on President Obama to stop such deportations.  

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