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Securing the Homeland for Whom?


Recently, U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents helped to arrest over a thousand undocumented immigrant laborers in more than two dozen states. Some of them were deported.

These immigrant laborers had produced wealth for IFCO Systems North America, a firm that makes and sells wooden crates and pallets. IFCO is part of the U.S. manufacturing sector with over 14 million workers.

These employees produced $107 billion of wood products in 2004, according to Department of Commerce data. Undocumented immigrant workers who earn low (non-union) wages contributed to that output.

Companies and the politicians they fund grasp that low wages create high profits. The lower the wages of immigrant workers without documents the more their bosses gain.

Officially, the DHS crackdown was designed to make the U.S. public feel more safe and secure from the threat posed by undocumented immigrant workers such as those on the IFCO payroll. For that reason, DHS chief Michael Chertoff called these laborers “criminal aliens.”

This is a scare term. It is crafted to link undocumented Mexican and Central American workers in the U.S. with the mainly Saudi Arabian terrorists involved in the crimes against humanity on September 11, 2001.

Days after the DHS cracked down on IFCO’s undocumented immigrant employees, Californians learned they would get no federal funds for emergency repairs to the state’s levee system. An official under the homeland security chief delivered the sour news to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So it is too bad and so sad for those who live near bodies of water that rise in winter and spring behind the state’s porous levees on the governor’s watch. Uncle Sam will only allocate emergency funds after a disaster, not before.

And Californians in harm’s way from flooding? Presumably, they can take comfort from the efforts of the DHS in securing the homeland from the menace of “criminal aliens” laboring in the nation’s durable goods sector.

Pondering this logic might be some of the two million-plus residents of the six-county Sacramento region. Its suburban sprawl near levees at-risk from a melting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range to the east, is due partly to Phil Angelides, the Democratic state treasure and former real estate developer turned gubernatorial candidate.

Add to that marriage of business and politics the fact that such sprawl was made possible in part by the low-wage labor of so-called “criminal aliens” employed by construction companies in the Sacramento region. This is one case concerning the many moving parts–commercial, ideological and political–involved in the rhetoric of securing the homeland since Sept. 11.

In the meantime, the nation’s employers will go on seeking low-wage labor in concert with political circles of power. And the DHS will continue trying to add another layer of fear to the psyche of the U.S. public.

How it will respond to these overlapping processes is unclear. Much hangs in the balance.

SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at



Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild.

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