HYRUM - If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an "illegal alien" in her homeland - the United States of America.
She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.
The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were "cleared" or arrested by "la migra," the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.
"I was in the line because of the color of my skin," she said, her voice shaking. "They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet."
Steve Benen: "If the DHS really conducted an immigration raid by separating people based entirely on their skin color, somebody better lose their job over it."
Wrong. Someone should lose their job. And the department should get sued. And they should have to pay a massive settlement for forgetting that it is no longer 1925. And then they should get someone to explain to America's Latino population that our immoral crackdown on undocumented workers is absolutely nothing they need to be concerned about whatsoever.
In Cache County, minorities make up 12 percent - Latinos are 8 percent - of the population of 98,000 people.
Women were crying as they were handcuffed with plastic ties and put on the buses. Some weren't allowed to get their belongings from their lockers. Maria, who declined to use her last name, argued with an agent because she was getting the coat for her 34-year-old niece, Blanca, who was arrested.
"She [the agent] told me, 'Do you think it's going to be cold in Mexico?' "Maria said, holding back tears. ''I've never seen people get treated como animales."
Maria was able to give Blanca a goodbye hug and promised to pack up her trailer. Gloria Alvanes looked for her husband at the plant. He called a relative before he was arrested and taken away. She said she is upset because she doesn't understand why the government is treating undocumented workers as criminals when most of them are just here to work. Alvanes has been married to her husband for five years, but he hasn't become a legal U.S. resident because the immigration process is taking longer than they expected. Now, she and her daughter, Marilyn Cornejo, a high school junior, are worried because they have a tight budget, it's 12 days before Christmas and there is no money for an immigration lawyer.
"What do they want us to do?" Marilyn asked. "Do they want us to drop out of school and get jobs?"
At five schools in Cache County, counselors comforted students who feared their parents had been taken into custody. Some school leaders explained to Latino students what was happening and made sure there was someone at home.
Latino leader Rolando Murillo, who happened to be at Mountaincrest High School in Hyrum, talked with about 100 students, including children whose parents are in this country legally but who fear "la migra."
"La migra is a nightmare for them," he said.
As usual, the immigration debate forgets that we're dealing with actual human beings. "Being Brown", as one of the women at the plant put it, is far more relevant to how their treated (como animales) than "being human." And that is a shame. A shame to the DHS, and a shame to the nation.
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