THIS MAY COME as a shock, but millions of illegal immigrants did not grow up dreaming the American Dream.

If they could, most probably would choose to stay in Mexico or Guatemala or El Salvador, but their families can't survive without the remesas - the remittances - they send back.

So the growing trend of showy raids against undocumented workers - from 500 in 2002 to 5,000 in 2007 - is unlikely to deter a great number of people from trying to come here illegally. They are too desperate, and "off the books" jobs remain plentiful. Besides, there's a lucrative business for the "coyotes" who transport them here.

But the way the U.S. government is carrying out immigration enforcement should lead those of us who consider ourselves "legals" to wonder what is happening to the dream we call America.

Last month, the biggest immigration raid in history netted 389 arrests at a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa. Announced by hovering helicopters more befitting the Afghanistan frontier than a town of 2,400, federal agents took the detainees to an internment camp at the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds 120 miles away in Waterloo, Iowa. Many children came home from school that day to empty houses.

Over three days, the workers themselves were "processed," although not afforded the "due process" one would expect in this country. Unlike past practice, the workers weren't immediately deported, but instead were charged with various misdemeanors and sentenced to five months in prison.

So far, though, no one at Agriprocessors, the plant that employed the workers, has been charged with anything, even though the company had been informed that many of the Social Security numbers being used were phony.

This is no surprise: Employers continue to face minimal legal risks for breaking immigration laws while there continue to be significant financial incentives to do so. Illegals are so much easier to exploit and abuse than the legal workers who, make no mistake, would do those jobs if they were paid decently and not subject to the harassment, abuse, and criminally dangerous working conditions that undocumented workers often endure.

So if it's not a deterrent, why pursue raids like this? Surely, the Department of Homeland Security doesn't think it's going to remove 12 million illegal immigrants 389 at a time.

Better to pretend that the government is doing something to address this complicated issue - without inconveniencing the people who continue to benefit from it not being addressed.

In the meantime, the debate grows increasingly bitter and the tactics used grow increasingly harsh. It divides not only Democrats from Republicans, but also has caused major fissures within the political parties.

WHAT PROPONENTS call "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" is nowhere near "comprehensive" enough. There is no way we can fix the problem here without also working on the economic pressures that force people to leave their home countries.

It won't be fixed with a single piece of legislation, but that doesn't mean we can't begin.

In the meantime, even "illegals" are entitled to be treated with dignity, respect and due process. To do otherwise is un-American. *