Federal agents stand outside The House of Raeford''s Columbia Farms chicken plant Tuesday, Oct 7, 2008, in Greenville, S.C. Some 300 suspected illegal immigrants were detained by federal agents at the chicken processing plant that has been under investigation for months. (AP Photo)
By Samantha Henry
The Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. - With federal authorities stepping up immigration enforcement raids across the country, Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Menendez of New Jersey are sponsoring a bill to protect the rights of U.S. citizens and legal residents who get caught up in them.
The Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act was introduced on Sept. 25 to push for more stringent legal procedures to be followed by authorities executing immigration-related searches and warrants.
Immigration officials have conducted a series of high-profile workplace raids across the country in recent months, including one earlier this week at a poultry processing plant in Greenville, S.C.
The two Democratic lawmakers argue that the raids are often conducted in a sweeping fashion that nets lawful residents and American citizens who happen to be working alongside undocumented immigrants. Those who can''t produce papers such as a birth certificate or passport proving U.S. citizenship or legal residency are often detained.
The legislation would require immigration agents to advise people being detained of their rights, including the option of remaining silent or seeking legal counsel, similar to what police officers must do in arresting criminal suspects.
Although the bill may not have much shelf life with the present Congress soon to adjourn, Menendez said he plans to continue pushing the issue.
"We cannot allow the fervor to deport undocumented workers to take away the constitutional rights that belong to each and every U.S. citizen and legal resident," said Menendez, who is the son of Cuban immigrants. "This is the United States of America, where we protect our citizens and treat our fellow humans with respect."
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement spokesman Harold Ort said the agency could not comment specifically on pending legislation, but said ICE conducts targeted law enforcement operations based on intelligence gathering and standard investigative procedures.
"ICE fugitive operations officers follow applicable federal laws and ICE policies during all of our operations, which are conducted to minimize the risk to officers, those we arrest, and others we encounter during an operation," Ort said.
Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped draft the Menendez-Kennedy bill, said U.S. citizens are frequently detained in raids. She said several U.S. citizens were among those caught up in the Greenville raid, in which 330 people were detained.
"If ICE had conducted much more targeted enforcement actions that were against individuals named in warrants, this bill wouldn''t be necessary," she said. "Instead, we''re seeing raids in homes and work sites everywhere in the country, because there''s no guidelines governing the conduct of these immigration raids. That''s why national legislation is necessary."
ICE has arrested more than 2,000 people in New Jersey during raids in the past year, according to Seton Hall University Law School, which has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security over the detention of U.S. citizens and legal residents during immigration raids.