Target the criminals

Although a recent spate of violent crime has focused much of the city’s attention on gangs, there is another source of fearful social upheaval rippling through Los Angeles: immigration raids. Although they certainly do not threaten residents’ welfare and security with deadly gunfire, the continual rounding up of illegal immigrants at their places of employment is having serious consequences within and without the Latino community.

Because illegal immigrants are entrenched in many sectors of local business, such as the food, garment and furniture industries -- and because employers do not have a foolproof way to determine workers’ legal status -- the arrests of employees who are suspected of no crime other than being in the country illegally is shaking the region’s already fragile economy.

That’s the argument Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made in asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to halt workplace raids and instead target illegal immigrants who have committed crimes or who are in gangs. That’s a valuable distinction, and one the mayor is right to make.

The vacuum left by Congress’ failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform has left every major city in America to manage the real-world effects of illegal immigration. And the fact is that, in Los Angeles, industries that contribute millions of dollars to city coffers flourish in part because of illegal labor. A practical immigration policy would match workers with industries in which they are most needed, not ambush them and their employers.


A case in point is the recent raid on Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that echoes Villaraigosa’s concerns, the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce argued that the arrests of more than 130 illegal immigrants penalized a global manufacturer that employs hundreds, pays “well above” minimum wage and offers employee benefits. A better use of federal resources, wrote chamber President Gary L. Toebben, would be to focus on companies that violate labor laws and exploit workers.

No doubt the mayor is now in for a drubbing by the more vocal foes of illegal immigration, those who disingenuously hyperventilate about L.A.'s merely symbolic “sanctuary city” status and misconstrue the Police Department’s Special Order 40 (which does not, protests notwithstanding, prevent officers from contacting immigration authorities about suspected illegal immigrants). Villaraigosa’s willingness to brave such vitriol on behalf of good policy is genuine leadership.