U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner breathed a big sigh of relief. Salt Lake City International Airport, swept clean of at least 69 undocumented foreign nationals—all Hispanic—is now safe from terrorism.
Warner is a member of a very small group of people who believe that. Mayor Rocky Anderson doesn’t even believe it, although he may have made a political misstep by standing alongside Warner during a press conference that had the appearance 24 hours later of grand-standing. It was exactly the same period of time that it took Anderson to disavow the measure.
While Warner and Anderson play at politics, however, 69 families have had their lives turned upside down. Those 69 undoubtedly will be deported, although to date, only 61 are in custody. Another 202 were terminated for providing false documentation. Harsh reality—maybe. But not a new one for immigrants—undocumented or not—working the grunt jobs that keep the American economy going.
The fact is that our economy, both on a local level and a national level, depends on immigrant workers. They take the $5 and $6-an-hour jobs that no one else wants. Not just in the orchards and fields anymore, but in the construction industry, in the restaurant business, in hotels and now, we find, in airports. Undocumented workers are more than a convenience. They have become a bottom-line necessity that business and law enforcement turn a blind and conspiratorial eye toward until it becomes just too inconvenient.
It’s not just a sad fact—it’s the worst kind of double standard. How can we as a nation depend on hard-working, law-abiding people who come here as immigrants have for the past 225 years, only to arrest them, jail them and deport them—something like taking out the trash?
As shameful as that is, that is the way it has been for as long as this writer can remember. Credit the mayor for recognizing it for what it really is. By the same token, it was predictable that this sort of thing would happen when airport security rose again to the top of our domestic wish list. Anderson has been at the forefront of the drum-bangers looking to make airports as secure as courtrooms.
Across the nation, something just as sinister—or perhaps more so—has been taking place since Sept. 11. Immigrants of Middle Eastern decent have been rounded up by the hundreds and held without criminal charges and in some cases without legal representation. Of the 600-plus, only one has been indicted thus far. Will we abridge the rights of 600 innocent people to get at one or a dozen suspected terrorists?
Despite our grand philosophies and big talk of freedom, we have done just that. Against such a backdrop, how can anyone—most notably Mayor Anderson—be surprised when federal authorities swoop in and round up undocumented workers and deport them? Paul Warner and federal authorities at the Immigration and Naturalization Service were just doing their jobs. It’s no coincidence that doing their jobs just happens to be politically expedient right now. But, we might ask, where were they one year ago, when the same airport workers were in the same jobs and no one seemed to mind?