Immigrant rights groups blasted President Obama on Wednesday for breaking what they called his “personal commitment” to change Bush-era immigration raids after U.S. authorities raided an engine machine shop in Washington state and detained illegal immigrants.
The Obama administration itself seemed taken aback by the raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano vowing to Congress that she would “get to the bottom of this.”
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said “these raids are not a long-term solution.”
The raid in Bellingham, Wash., was the first major workplace enforcement action since Mr. Obama took office, but the second time a law enforcement action has angered the White House.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Mr. Obama criticized immigration work-site raids as “ineffective” and said the focus instead should be on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Immigrant rights groups said this week’s raid seemed to go against that.
“This was a fixture of our conversations and demands with him during the campaign. It has always been one that there would be a hold on the raids or a stop to the raids until there was a through review of its effectiveness and whether it has been a fiscally responsible course of action,” said Cynthia Buiza, director of policy and advocacy at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “This is all about holding public officials accountable to the things they promised during the campaign.”
The National Council of La Raza urged supporters to call the White House and demand Mr. Obama lay out his immigration policy, while the National Immigration Forum said the raid was an unwelcome continuation of Bush administration policies.
“What are Latino and immigrant voters to think? They turn out in massive numbers and vote for change and yet ‘change we can believe in’ turns out to be ‘business as usual,'” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the forum.
In a statement, ICE said the raid was the result of a gang investigation.
“Information derived from two gang members previously arrested in an ICE gang operation led to the initiation of the work-site investigation at Yamato Engine Specialists,” said press secretary Kelly Nantel. “Follow-up investigation uncovered a potentially large number of illegally employed workers. ICE conducted the operation in order to identify and if appropriate, apprehend any unauthorized workers and to further determine potential criminal activity.”
Ms. Napolitano said she expects ICE actions at work sites to focus on employers “who intentionally and knowingly exploit the illegal labor market.”