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DHS Signals Policy Changes Ahead for Immigration Raids

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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009; 1:19 PM

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed a series of proposed immigration raids and other enforcement actions at U.S. workplaces in recent weeks, asking agents in her department to apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids, federal officials said.

A senior department official said the delays signal a pending change in whom agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement choose to prosecute -- increasing the focus on businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers.

"ICE is now scrutinizing these cases more thoroughly to ensure that [targets] are being taken down when they should be taken down, and that the employer is being targeted and the surveillance and the investigation is being done how it should be done," said the official, discussing Napolitano's views about sensitive law enforcement matters on the condition of anonymity.

"There will be a change in policy, but in the interim, you've got to scrutinize the cases coming up," the senior DHS official said, noting Napolitano's expectations as a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general.

Another DHS official said Napolitano plans to release protocols this week to ensure more consistent work-site investigations and less "haphazard" decision-making.

Napolitano's moves have led some to question President Obama's commitment to work-site raids, which were a signature of Bush administration efforts to combat illegal immigration. Napolitano has highlighted other priorities, such as combating Mexican drug cartels and catching dangerous criminals who are illegal immigrants.

Napolitano's moves foreshadow the difficult political decisions the Obama administration faces as it decides whether to continue mass arrests of illegal immigrant workers in sweeps of meatpackers, construction firms, defense contractors and other employers.

Critics say workplace and neighborhood sweeps are harsh and indiscriminate, and they accuse the government of racial profiling, violating due process rights and committing other humanitarian abuses.

The raids have enraged Latino community and religious leaders, immigrant advocates and civil liberties groups important to the Democratic base, who have stepped up pressure on Obama to stop them.

At a rally last week in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, head of the archdiocese of Obama's home city, called on the government "to end immigration raids and the separation of families" and support an overhaul of immigration law. "Reform would be a clear sign this administration is truly about change," George said.

Also last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made similar calls as the caucus met formally with Obama for the first time.

"Raids that break up families in that way, just kick in the door in the middle of the night, taking [a] father, a parent away, that's just not the American way. It must stop," Pelosi added at a Capitol Hill conference on border issues sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


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