Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents knocked on a door in Southaven. They had a warrant for a Hispanic man who had a criminal record, and they found him. He was living in a house with six other men, all of whom worked at an area restaurant. The other men had no criminal records, and ICE had no warrants for their arrest — in fact, had no idea who they were. But they were brown, so they got taken into custody.
Within 24 hours, all seven men were shipped to a federal prison in rural Louisiana. They didn't get a bail hearing or access to a lawyer before being hauled off. They sit in cells in the middle of nowhere, hoping somehow their case will be taken up by an attorney, somewhere, before they are summarily deported. There have been thousands of cases like this since Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed ICE and gave them carte blanche to disrupt our Hispanic communities.
Yeah, I get that there are some of you reading this who'll say, "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" To which I say, "What part of 'innocent until proven guilty' do you not understand?" This is not how the American justice system is supposed to work, even for non-citizens.
But these raids — these stakeouts at schools and churches and restaurants, these overnight deportations — are doing what they're designed to do. And that is to demonize and terrify men, women, and children of Hispanic descent.
So, the restaurant where the men worked had to close. The owner is still seeking replacement workers but has had little luck. This, in microcosm, demonstrates a larger problem, one that may at first seem unrelated.
In a new report on the impact of opioids in small town and rural areas, some employers stated that their biggest problem was finding "clean and sober" workers. One in 10 Mississippians is on opioids. Similar numbers abound in other mostly rural states.
Nine rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee in the past couple of years, a number that leads the nation. A study by the Rural Health Reform Policy Research Center says 17 rural Tennessee counties rank in the bottom 10 percent of counties in the country in unemployment, poverty, and per capita income.
In Tennessee, the legislature declined to take advantage of the billions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare funding that were offered gratis via Obamacare, thereby putting the health of hundreds of thousands of the state's residents — and many of its hospitals — in serious jeopardy, in the name of partisan politics. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Republicans have utterly failed to come up with a plan to fix health care.
So, in sum: We have a huge opioid crisis that is crippling our potential work force, yet we're not funding hospitals in the areas where they are most needed, ensuring more poverty, more addiction, and more unemployment. On the other hand, we're rounding up and sending off thousands of willing workers with no due process, most of whom have lived here for years — building our homes, doing our yardwork and housework, working in our restaurants. It's tough to be an employer if most of your potential blue-collar workers are addicted or are being summarily deported. It's dumb and dumber.
Our priorities and our politics are terribly out of whack right now. Letting partisan politics drive actions on issues such as health care and immigration seldom benefits the general public's welfare. Or much of anything, for that matter.