Immigration Raids Cripple Small Towns

In fiscal 2008, more than 1,000 criminal arrests and 3,900 civil ones have been made -- an 868 percent increase in total worksite arrest.

The Department of Homeland Security has increased its budget by 6.8 percent over fiscal 2008 and pledges to "continue to protect our nation from dangerous people," according to its Web site. New initiatives include $100 million for an "E-Verify" system to help employers identify those with fake documents and $46 million for additional beds and staffing at detention facilities.

But the failure of the federal government to address the immigration issue means local officials must deal with the problem.

Thousands of the farmworkers on Vermont's dairy farms work illegally, according to Leslie Holman, an immigration lawyer based in Burlington. Dairy farms don't qualify for guest worker programs that allow workers to get visas for seasonal work.

Farmers and state politicians say stalled immigration reform is hurting Vermont's billion-dollar dairy industry.

"There are not enough people to do the jobs Americans don't want to do," Holman told ABCNews.com. "People don't want to get up at 3 in the morning and to milk cattle or work all day in the field."

"We have a broken immigration system," Holman told ABCNews.com. "We see these raids that are being used as a substitute for reform and that's backward."

Other immigration lawyers worry that with an aging population and little political will to fix the systems, the economic situation will get even worse.

"One of the ironies is that as the baby boomers get older, our need for workers increases," said Jack Chaney, a Dallas immigration attorney. "We haven't addressed either of these issues. The raids have been on unskilled workers and we need more, not less, of them."

'We Need Workers'

"The truth is we need workers and that's why 12 million are here," he told ABCNews.com. "We are stuck. There is no option for an unskilled person, no path for them."

Chaney and pro-immigration groups are supporting a moratorium on the raids, which he calls a "draconian way to force the country behind immigration."

"ICE gives the party line that they are enforcing law," he said. "But the real point they make is a political point."

So far, presidential nominees Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have been largely silent on the issue of immigration. But experts say that when small towns lose hundreds of residents overnight, politicians will soon hear about it.

"They have nothing to gain by taking sides on this controversial issue," said federal interpreter Camayd-Freixas, who is a language professor at Florida International University. "But that isn't to say they won't take a stand once elected."

"I am hopeful," he said. "I think they will put a stop to this nonsense."

ABC's Nancy Ayala and researcher Melissa Lenderman contributed to this report.

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