By BRIAN DOHERTY


The federal government, in this election year when immigration reform has been one of the hottest issues, is out to prove it can protect our nation's borders by invading our nation's chicken processing plants.


A nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants, dubbed "Operation Return to Sender," is in process. Its first wave, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, officially concluded in June, but raids continue apace with 24,000 arrests and 6,800 deportations this year.


Chicken processing a line of work that combines grotesque unpleasantness with relatively low wages tends to attract lots of illegal employees. Thus, two of the most detailed and telling accounts of the real meaning of operations such as Return to Sender to actual Americans appeared in tales of raids on chicken plants.


One, from the Associated Press, tells of the literal decimation of the city of Stillmore, Ga., where more than 100 workers in a town of around 1,000 population were bussed off to Atlanta for deportation following a raid at the Crider chicken plant; many other workers and family members literally fled to the woods to escape the same fate, some leaving infants behind in others' care. The loss of 10 percent of the population has hit the town hard. Most of the town's remaining businesses are dying slowly without their customer base.


A similar story ran in the Los Angeles Times back in July, about Arkadelphia, Ark. It was another tale of chicken processing plants, sudden immigration raids, more than a


hundred workers dragged away, and subsequent damage to the emotional and economic life of a city. The federal raiders got no cooperation, as the story tells it, from local prosecutors or sheriffs, who understand the local circumstances that make such raids a stupid waste of time and a disruption to their communities. Arkansas' Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee even donated a grand to a relief fund set up for families hurt by the raid.


Sympathetic, specific, detailed stories infuriate anti-immigrant bloggers.


Immigration opponents like to talk (when not talking about violent immigrant criminals) about abstractions such as the reverence for the law; macroeconomic studies showing alleged overall negative effects on the national economy; or big-picture lucubration on the glories of a majority-white-European culture that is as doomed as our previous majority-English-German culture was in the 20th century.


But these stories about Stillmore and Arkadelphia bring us down to the experienced realities of immigration policy as it effects the people who actually live with and work with the supposedly damaging immigrants. There are human connections and relationships familial, friendly, economic, all equally important in a human community frayed or destroyed. Why would a legal American such as Stillmore trailer park owner David Robinson hang his flag upside down in solidarity with the "criminals" taken from his trailer park?


Because they were not criminals to him. They were his tenants. And this was and is his country. I daresay anyone who could happily see the people who support his business and his family dragged away in the night for violating a paper statute, not for harming another human being's person or property, would also feel that the world has been turned upside down.


The immigration news cycle is not, alas, over. Farmers in Idaho complain about unpicked potatoes because of border crackdowns. The number of border deaths has nearly doubled in the past decade, with no corresponding increase in illegal entries, according to a Government Accountability Office report. National Guard troops sent to beef up the border are driving around drunk and shooting up residential neighborhoods; meanwhile, the deterrent effect of "Operation Jump Start," which placed the National Guard on the border, doesn't seem to be working.


"We can't lose sight of the fact that these people were here illegally," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Marc Raimondi. But let's lose sight of it, and look at the true fruit of tough immigration law enforcement: plants without workers, children without parents, houses without tenants, stores without customers.


Immigration foes can dream of a land where ne'er is heard a Spanish word, where no flag but the American one flutters in the warm, comforting breeze; where all obey the Law because, dammit, it's the Law.


I'll dream of one where no one is dragged away from their job by armed thugs for not keeping their papers in order with the regime. Neither of us is going to see their dream come true, alas. But in pursuit of that first sour dream we are likely to see a lot of wasted effort, wasted tax dollars, wasted wall-building, and wasted lives.


Brian Doherty is a senior editor of Reason, an L.A.-based magazine covering political and cultural issues from a free-market perspective.

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