Illegal Immigrants Anticipate More Raids Some 62 illegal immigrants in Beardstown, Ill., who worked for a company that cleans a pork processing plant, are preparing for deportation following an immigration raid. One family anticipated problems and has a house waiting in Mexico.
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Illegal Immigrants Anticipate More Raids

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Illegal Immigrants Anticipate More Raids

Illegal Immigrants Anticipate More Raids

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Following last week's collapse of the Senate immigration bill, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says he'll continue raiding businesses who hire illegal workers. Chertoff had pushed hard for a legalization program so, as he put it, his agency could target criminals, not construction workers. Others argue that the raids and other enforcement tactics can make immigrants leave the U.S. on their own.


In fact, over several years, the immigration agency has dramatically increased its workplace raids. Three months ago, it arrested 62 people at a company that cleans a pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois. Now, a number of Mexican workers there face deportation.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden spoke with some of them, though none wanted their real names used while their legal cases are underway.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: On a quiet side street, a beige trailer sits in a large grassy yard, two kids play near a blue plastic swing set.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible)

LUDDEN: Parents Pedro and Maria say they moved to the U.S. from Mexico City illegally because they couldn't rise above a scrappy hand-to-mouth existence there. Sitting in the trailer's small living room, they explain they first lived in Atlanta for 18 months, then came to central Illinois three years ago.

PEDRO: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Pedro says he loves the countryside with all the trees.

MARIA: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Maria says, it's so calm we feel free. It's a great place to raise kids. Hanging on the wall above the sofa is a framed collage of family photos.

PEDRO: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: The smiling faces are of siblings and cousins, nieces and nephews in Georgia, Nebraska, Chicago. In just five years and despite speaking almost no English, Pedro and Maria say they have come to feel partly American.

MARIA: (Spanish spoken)

PEDRO: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: We celebrate the Fourth of July, she says. And Pedro says he's even learned to cook meat on the grill every weekend. Now, the couple is contemplating life back in Mexico. Maria was among dozens arrested in April when the cleaning company QSI was raided during its overnight shift at a local pork processing plant.

So far, a dozen QSI managers and employees have pleaded guilty to fraud and misusing employment documents. Maria, along with 10 others, was released on humanitarian grounds to care for children while her deportation case proceeds. But she can't work while she waits.

MARIA: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: She explains she writes a letter to the immigration agency each month confirming her address. In some places, immigration officials use high-tech ankle bracelets to enforce house arrest but there's no such monitor here. Maria, Pedro and others say several of those arrested in April have often up and left town, presumably slipping back into the shadows to find jobs elsewhere.

Though Pedro's still working and their four-year-old daughter is a U.S. citizen, the couples say they have no intention of splitting the family if Maria is deported. They feel lucky they have put their money earned here to good use.

PEDRO: (Through translator) We really wanted to stay here. But in our situation, you'll never know what will happen. So we've been having a house built in Mexico. At least we won't be in the streets.

Ms. SHELLY HEIDEMAN (Volunteer, Elizabeth Ann Seton Program): (Spanish spoken) Can he decorate?

LUDDEN: In a storefront church in Beardstown, Shelly Heideman hands out diapers and wipes. She's with the Elizabeth Ann Seton Program, a nonprofit that helps raise money for those arrested in the April immigration raid.

Ms. HEIDEMAN: Is he your little boy?

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Ms. HEIDEMAN: I think he looks like your sister.

Unidentified Woman: No.


LUDDEN: In the first weeks, Heideman says families were given food and money for rent and utilities.

Ms. HEIDEMAN: It was short-term help. A lot of these families are still waiting for court hearings, court dates that are out until October. And so, in the long-term I don't know how they're going to survive.

LUDDEN: Methodist Pastor Evaristo Rodriguez helped collect donations but says it was tough.

Mr. EVARISTO RODRIGUEZ (Pastor, Hispanic Faith Community, Beardstown, Illinois): Most people they are afraid to do something because they think it's bad. I hear some people say, well, they come illegal here, it's not my fault, you know.

LUDDEN: Rodriguez says many Hispanics in town continue to lie low, venturing out only to buy essentials, and some are taking other precautions.

Mr. PINEDA(ph): (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: A man who gives only the family name Pineda says he's been in the U.S. illegally for 17 years. His children are American citizens. And after the raid, they asked their parents if they too were going to be arrested.

Mr. PINEDA: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Just in case he is detained, Pineda's made arrangements with two relatives who are U.S. citizens. One is prepared to drop everything and drive 16 hours from Pennsylvania to care for the children. Pineda has given her instructions to hire a lawyer and fight his deportation.

Across town, sipping coffee in a fast-food restaurant, retired fireman Dave Moran(ph) has little sympathy.

Mr. DAVE MORAN: They're here illegally. They have kids here. The kids should be illegal. That's - then they start crying because they've got to send the parents home and the kids can stay. Well, they should have thought of that when they came in illegally.

LUDDEN: Moran also blames employers for recruiting immigrants to keep wages low. He thinks the immigration agency should have raided the much larger pork processing plant in town, not just it's cleaning contractor.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Unintelligible)

NANCY: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: School is out. And Nancy's sons and their friends file in the screen door, straight to the kitchen. She pours them a sweet Mexican drink made from rice.

Nancy is resigned to being deported back to Mexico. She sold her house, a trim, white clapboard with new-looking sofas and a flat screen TV. She does, though, wonder who will do her dangerous job cleaning heavy equipment at the processing plant.

NANCY: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: She says one man with the new cleaning company may not have been trained well and had his arm cut off. Nancy says she knows Americans don't want that kind of work. During her four years here, she saw them come and then go, quitting after a few days or even hours.

NANCY: (Through translator) I don't understand this country sometimes. I know we're here illegally, and I agree they should kick out criminals and drug dealers. But why do they pick on people who are working hard and build their lives here? It feels unfair.

LUDDEN: Even though Nancy has a buyer for her house, she hopes to stay in it until an immigration judge's final orders.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow Jennifer reports on how Beardstown has been coping with an influx of immigrants over the past decade.

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