You’re All Illegal February 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Immigration, Race, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, anti-immigration, dream act, First Nations, genocide, Immigration, native american, racism, roger hollander
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by Abby Zimet
WATCH THE VIDEO!!!
A bumper sticker being sold outside Milwaukee
Staging his own small, fierce, truth-telling protest, a Native-American man pushing a baby stroller confronted anti-immigration zealots at an Arizona rally by furiously pointing out that they are the real “illegals” for invading his country. Enough, he said, with their race-baiting, flag-waving “bogus arguments.” Meanwhile, young immigrants loudly interrupted a staid Congressional hearing on immigration, protesting GOP opposition to the DREAM Act by chanting, “Undocumented and Unafraid.” They were thrown out by security officials as legislators snickered.
“We didn’t invite none of you. We’re the only native Americans here,” he yelled. “That’s what (the American) flag stands for – all the Native Americans you killed to plant your houses here. That’s the truth.”
Three Years, 30,000 Incidents of Human Rights Abuse: Are Border Patrol Agents the Real Criminals? October 4, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Immigration, Racism.
Tags: anti-immigration, border patrol, human rights, Immigration, migration, racism, roger hollander, torture, US-Mexico, valeria fernandez
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water to adults and children in detention for several days, to purposely
separating families during deportation.
aid organization No More Deaths.
The report, “A Culture of Cruelty,” documents 30,000 incidents of human
rights abuses against undocumented immigrants in short-term detention between
fall 2008 and spring 2011. Nearly 13,000 people were interviewed in the Mexican
border towns of Naco, Nogales and Agua Prieta.
Allegations range from Border Patrol agents denying food and water to adults
and children in detention for several days, to purposely separating families
during deportation or forcing people to sign removal orders.
They also include concerns that detainees were not provided the right to due
“We didn’t go out looking for these stories. They came to us and they were
inescapable,” said Hannah Hafter, a co-author of the report who works as a
volunteer for No More Deaths helping deported immigrants.
“Many of the grassroots services we provide wouldn’t need to exist if the
Border Patrol was doing the right thing,” she said.
The report contends that the alleged physical and verbal abuse suffered by
immigrants fits the international definition of torture.
According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, physiological
abuse can be defined as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of
law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering
[…] upon another person within his custody or physical control.”
Allegations of torture include threatening detainees with death while in
custody, and verbal and physical abuse.
“That is a pretty serious allegation, and any allegation we are going to take
very seriously and we’re going to look into it,” said Colleen Agle, a
spokesperson from the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol.
Agle said the Border Patrol couldn’t provide statistics on the number of
complaints referred to the agency. But she said they would seriously consider
the findings in this report and investigate if there are credible
“This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about immigration policies,”
said Reverend Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist
Association, which represents over 1,000 congregations with Jewish-Christian
roots. “The majority of Americans don’t want to see this kind of treatment of
innocent people, women and children, in their name,” said Morales, who has been
involved in acts of civil disobedience in Phoenix against the anti-immigration
law SB 1070.
Hafter said that part of the problem is a culture of abuse within the
“Above all, Border Patrol’s steadfast denial of abuse in the face of
overwhelming evidence to the contrary is indicative of an institution vehemently
resistant to any measure of accountability,” the report claims.
But an even more significant issue for Hafter is the lack of an adequate
process for immigrants in detention to file complaints without fearing
retaliation or being held for long periods of time.
Agle said that normally immigrants in detention can either report a complaint
with Border Patrol itself or request to see a consular official from their
country. She said whether or not they stay longer in detention would depend on
the individual case.
The Inspector General ultimately handles complaints against the Border
Patrol, she said.
Activists, meanwhile, have been filing complaints with the Office of Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties, a branch within the Department of Homeland Security.
They’ve filed 75 complaints so far but say they have received no answer on
whether or not action was taken.
Danielle Alvarado, one of the co-authors of the report, says part of the
problem is that there is no uniformity in the way complaints are handled.
“A lot of times when they get complains they refer it back to the agency
they’re investigating,” said Alvarado. “The only way we have of knowing if the
complaint process is working is talking to people afterwards to see if trends
Agle said that due to privacy concerns she wasn’t able to reveal how many
complaints the Border Patrol has investigated or the outcome of those cases.
Some of the complaints in the report allege violations of international
agreements between Mexico and the United States, for example, the agreements
that families should be kept together during the removal process and that
vulnerable populations like women with children should be deported during
Activists have criticized some Border Patrol policies for putting immigrants
in harm’s way. One example is the practice of “lateral removal.”
According to the Border Patrol, this is part of a “consequence delivery
system” whose goal is to deter immigrants from re-entering into the country
Through “lateral removal,” immigrants get deported to areas that are far away
from where they first tried to enter illegally.
“The smugglers are preying on them so we want to get them out of their hands,
so they don’t continue to be put into a dangerous situation,” explained Border
Patrol spokesperson Agle.
But this can result in deporting immigrants to dangerous cities they are
unfamiliar with where they could be exposed to kidnappings or violence,
according to Hafter, co-author of the report.
No More Deaths has documented a change in the demographics of those who are
being deported from the country. A survey of 100 people found that the majority
of the immigrants being deported have been living in the United States for an
average of 14 years. Many have more than two children in the United States.
Almost 70 percent of those interviewed said they would continue to try to
cross the border to reunite with their loved ones.
“No amount of personal risk or inhumane treatment will ever be an effective
deterrent,” the report concludes.
Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of an independent
commission that would investigate alleged Border Patrol abuses to improve
transparency and accountability of the agency.
Phoenix, Arizona. She worked for La Voz newspaper for the last six years
covering the immigration beat and she is a guest contributor on Race Wire.
Valeria was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, and moved to the United
States in 1999.
National Outcry Builds Against Obama’s Deportations August 18, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Immigration, Racism.
Tags: anti-immigration, deportations, Homeland Security, human rights, immigrants, Immigration, kanya d'almeida, obama deportations, racism, robert morganthau, roger hollander, s-comm, undocumented
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Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Over one million immigrants have been deported since President Obama took office, making his deportation track record the worst in the history of the United States.
WASHINGTON — When 20-year-old Isaura Garcia called the 911 emergency hotline while being physically abused by her partner, she never imagined that her plea to U.S. legal authorities would lead to imprisonment and possible deportation.
A federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer arrests an immigrant during an enforcement surge in Arizona. The Secure Communities program allows local officers to quickly and easily check a person’s immigration status in the federal database. (Photo Courtesy of ICE) Though Garcia’s face was “black and blue” from repeated beatings by her boyfriend, the police – who insisted that she speak in English while explaining her plight – arrested her, held her in prison for over a week on a “felony domestic violence” charge, transferred her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), placed her in deportation proceedings, and finally released her on an electronic ankle bracelet.
Garcia’s story is just one of thousands of similar tales whose inception can be traced to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operation known as Secure Communities (S-Comm), a program that is now being challenged at the national level.
On Tuesday, a coalition of human rights defenders, including the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Center for Constitutional Rights, teamed up with over 18 other national and community-based organizations to make public a comprehensive report detailing the often devastating impacts of S-Comm on immigrant communities in the U.S.
Alongside testimony from victims of the program, including horror stories like Garcia’s, the report calls for immediate termination of the program, which huge swathes of civil society have long deemed to be a failure.
“There is an overall sense within the movement for immigrant justice that S-Comm is too broken to be fixed,” Chris Newman, the legal director at NDLON, told IPS.
“It has now become obvious even to people outside the immigrant rights community – such as former District Attorney of New York Robert Morgenthau and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey – that DHS is more interested in the politics of [these failed] programs than they are in genuine reform of immigration policy,” he added.
Launched by ICE in 2008, S-Comm was initially marketed to the U.S. public as a voluntary program designed to “improve and modernize the identification and removal of criminal aliens from the United States” by sending fingerprints submitted by local law enforcement agencies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal background checks, and then automatically searching those fingerprints against immigration databases.
According to the new report, “If ICE determines that an individual may be deportable, it requests that the local law enforcement agency detain him or her for transfer to ICE and possible deportation.”
Critics of the operation have blasted it as an open attack on immigrants’ basic civil and human rights by trapping millions of undocumented residents – most of them innocent, or guilty only of very minor offenses such as traffic violations – in a dragnet that has so far expelled 115,000 immigrants from the country.
“This policy is creating an ‘Arizonafication’ of our country,” Newman told IPS, parroting a phrase that has been used to describe the effects of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona, which essentially legalized racial profiling and is widely believed to be the harshest piece of anti-immigration legislature implemented in the country.
“The program piloted in Arizona and initiated as merely an experiment [foreshadowed] the Frankenstein that S-Comm has created,” he added.
“There is a sense within the immigrant justice community – and beyond it to academics, scholars and law enforcers – that DHS simply cannot be trusted,” Newman said.
“Calling the program ‘Secure Communities’ is misleading, since it actually achieves the opposite result. In fact, the whole operation has been a lie from its very inception,” he insisted.
Newman is by no means alone in his denunciation. Tuesday’s report joined increasingly loud calls for an end to the program.
Alarmed by the mandate of S-Comm to conflate local police authority with ICE’s function as an immigration-regulation body, the governors of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts scrapped the program, relying on the extensive Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) that were drafted in the initial stages of S-Comm granting states the green light to suspend their participation in the program whenever they chose.
But last week, the Barack Obama administration “disregarded the concerns of the [immigrant community and law enforcement officials] by announcing that DHS will continue its rapid rollout of the program – without state authorization,” according to a press release by the New York Immigration Coalition.
The statement added that over one million immigrants have been deported since President Obama took office, making his deportation track record the worst in the history of the United States.
Laura Rotolo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responded to the rescinding of the MOA in a blog post, which stated, “overnight [S-Comm] has become a federal mandate that will turn every city and every town into a feeder into the broken immigration system, not to mention part of the burgeoning bio-metric surveillance system that targets all Americans,” adding that the DHS must be held to account for its policies.
The recent report highlights all these problems and more, such as the already frayed relationship between immigrants and law enforcement authorities made worse by a reluctance to report crimes for fear of being deported; and the impact of S-Comm on the racially biased and highly lucrative prison industrial complex.
Last week, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, executive director of Enlace, an alliance of low-wage worker centers and community organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, stated, “DHS continues to demonstrate who it listens to – not to the millions calling for legalization and not to taxpayers, but to the private prison companies and their investors who are bent on profiting from taxpayers by jailing immigrants.”
He added, “Over a million immigrants have been imprisoned in the last three years, costing taxpayers billions of dollars that should have been allocated for education, healthcare and other legitimate public needs instead of being spent on expensive cages for men, women and children.”
Enlace is currently partnered with unions and community groups across the country in a nationwide Prison Industry Divestment Campaign, an effort to push all public and private institutions to “divest their holdings in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, [the U.S.'s] largest private prison corporations which profit annually from billions in taxpayer money.”
Activists Protest Immigration Raids in Phoenix March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration.
Tags: anti-immigrant, anti-immigration, arizona sheriff, hispanic communities, human rights, illegal immigrants, Immigration, joe arpaio, latine activists, maricopa county, phoenix, racial profiling, roger hollander, tim gaynor
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Published on Sunday, March 1, 2009 by Reuters
by Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX – Thousands of people protesting a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants by an Arizona sheriff marched through Phoenix on Saturday, toting placards reading “We Are Human” and “Stop the Raids.”
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has dispatched deputies into Hispanic communities in the Phoenix area where they stop people and arrest anyone who cannot prove he or she is a legal U.S. resident.
Under a deal allowing them to enforce federal immigration laws, the deputies have arrested more than 1,500 people whom they determined were in Arizona illegally.
Latino activists and lawmakers call his program a clear case of racial profiling because only people who look Hispanic are targeted. Arpaio steadfastly denies the charge.
Earlier this month, he stirred more controversy when he marched 220 illegal immigrants in shackles and striped prison garb through Phoenix under armed guard.
“Walking people through the streets in chains, public shaming, it’s medieval,” said Veronica Perez, 32, an archeologist carrying signs reading “No Human Is Illegal” and “Stop the Raids.”
“Isn’t cruel and unusual punishment against the U.S. Constitution?” she asked.
The event was organized by activists from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and a group called El Puente Arizona. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 1,000 to 3,000.
Preparing for the march at a park in central Phoenix, school district coordinator Sylvia Airington, 47, slammed Arpaio’s policies.
“Racial profiling, targeting the Hispanic community — it’s an embarrassment to America,” she said.
What to do about an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States is an explosive political issue. But it has largely dropped out of the debate as concerns turn to the economic crisis.
A bid to push comprehensive immigration reform through Congress was rejected by Republican lawmakers two years ago. President Barack Obama, who supported the measure, has yet to address the matter.
“I voted for Obama for change,” said welder Oscar Camacho, 45. “But with respect to immigration, I see no change at all.”
Around 100 counter-demonstrators waving American flags turned out to support Arpaio on Saturday. Some carried holstered pistols.
“He is the only one to uphold illegal immigration laws,” said Dina Rose, 52, standing on sidewalk by the sheriff’s office in downtown Phoenix. “The county sheriff is America’s last hope of protecting our freedoms.”
(Editing by Xavier Briand)
Stop the Raids in the First 100 Days October 26, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, George W. Bush, John McCain, Latin America, Political Commentary.
Tags: Add new tag, anti-immigration, border communities, criminalization of undocumented workers, david bacon, government raids on undocumented, human rights, Immigration policy, immigration raids, labor rights, Latino Asian, Mexico, NAFTA, roger hollander, U.S. Mexico border, undocumented workers
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by: David Bacon, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, October 26, 2008
Citizens of Postville, Iowa, march for immigrant and worker rights after a federal raid of the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant resulted in the arrest of 388 workers. (Photo: AP)
The first of the 388 workers arrested in the immigration raid on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, were deported last week, having spent five months in federal prison. Their crime? Giving a bad Social Security number to the company to get hired. Among them will be a young man who had his eyes covered with duct tape by a supervisor on the line, who then beat him with a meathook. The supervisor is still on the job.
Postville was one of the many recent immigration raids leading to criminal charges and deportations for thousands of people. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff calls this “closing the back door.” Meanwhile, his department seeks to “open the front door” by establishing new guest worker programs called “close to slavery” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Something is clearly wrong with the priorities of immigration enforcement. Hungry and desperate workers go to jail and get deported. The government protects employers and seeks to turn a family-based immigration system into their managed labor supply. Yet national political campaigns say less and less about it. Immigrant Latino and Asian communities feel increasingly afraid and frustrated. Politicians want their votes, but avoid talking about the rising wave of arrests, imprisonment and deportations.
This month, national demonstrations across the nation are protesting the silence, asking candidates to speak out. Immigrant communities expect a new deal from a new administration, especially from Democrats. They want a new president to take swift and decisive action to give human rights a priority over fear, and recognize immigrants as people, not just a source of cheap labor.
In its first 100 days, a new administration could take these simple steps to benefit immigrants and working families:
• Stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from seeking serious federal criminal charges, with incarceration in privately run prisons, for lacking papers or for bad Social Security numbers.
• Stop raiding workplaces, especially where workers are trying to organize unions or enforce wage and hour laws. This would help all workers, not just immigrants, to raise low wages.
• Double the paltry 742 federal inspectors responsible for all US wage and hour violations, and focus on industries where immigrants are concentrated. The National Labor Relations Board could target employers who use immigration threats to violate union rights.
• Halt community sweeps, where agents use warrants for one or two people to detain and deport dozens of others. End the government’s campaign to repeal local sanctuary ordinances, and to drag local law enforcement into immigration raids.
• Allow all workers to apply for a Social Security number and pay legally into the system that benefits everyone. Social Security numbers should be used for their true purpose – paying retirement and disability benefits – not to fire immigrants from their jobs and send them to prison.
• Reestablish worker protections ended under Bush on existing guest worker programs, force employers to hire domestically first, and decertify any contractor guilty of labor violations.
• Restore human rights in border communities, stop construction of the border wall between the US and Mexico, and disband the Operation Streamline federal court, where scores of young border crossers are sent to prison in chains every day.
After the first 100 days, Democrats will have to decide what reforms to bring before Congress, and when. Some would delay action for a year or more. But the US Chamber of Commerce and dozens of trade groups will not sit on their hands. They have been pushing for years for big guest worker programs, more raids and enforcement, and a weak legalization program. Many immigrant and labor rights activists want an alternative, and advocate three steps toward a more progressive reform:
1. A moratorium on raids, while protecting human and labor rights, in the first 100 days.
2. Introduce a bill to give green card visas to the undocumented, and clear up the backlog of people already waiting for them. If more visas are more easily available abroad, people won’t have to cross the border without them. That bill should also create jobs in unemployed communities, repeal employer sanctions laws that make work a crime for immigrants, and pass labor law reform to protect workers’ rights. Guest worker programs with a record of abuse should be ended, as they were in 1964.
3. Change trade policy and renegotiate agreements like NAFTA, so they stop causing poverty and uprooting communities, making migration peoples’ only alternative for survival. Defeat new trade agreements with countries like Colombia, which will cause job loss in the US and spread low wages, labor violations and displacement abroad. US tax dollars, instead of being spent on war in Iraq, could expand rural credit, education and healthcare in Mexico and other countries, easing the pressure behind migration.
There is a common ground between immigrants, African-Americans and other communities of color, unions, churches, civil rights organizations and working families generally. Legalization and immigrant rights, tied to guaranteeing jobs for all working families, can bring people together. All workers, including immigrants, need the right to organize and enforce labor standards – the same goal sought by unions in the Employee Free Choice Act. Changing trade policy will benefit working class communities in the US, while helping the families of immigrants back home from Oaxaca to El Salvador.
The diverse communities who need these reforms can and will find ways to seek them together. In fact, if Barack Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress gain office in November, they will owe their victory to this coalition.
After the election, this same coalition will need jobs and rights. But immigrant workers are going to jail now. The wave of raids continues to divide families, even as candidates hold rallies and ask for votes. In Los Angeles’ Placita Olvera, activists have begun a hunger strike to stop the deportations. Marches and demonstrations are making the same point from coast to coast.
Promises of change are not enough. For candidates who want working-class votes, the first step is to speak out.
David Bacon is a California photojournalist who documents labor, migration and globalization. His book “Communities Without Borders” was just published by Cornell University/ILR Press.
U.S. Criminalizes Undocumented to Attack Workers’ Movement October 2, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America.
Tags: anti-immigration, criminalization of undocumented workers, Eugene Walker, government raids on undocumented, immigrant workers, Immigration policy, Marxist Humanism, roger hollander, undocumented workers, workers rights
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NEWS & LETTERS, August – September 2008
U.S. criminalizes undocumented to attack workers’ movement
by Eugene Walker
In the biggest raid on a workplace in U.S. history, hundreds upon hundreds of Federal agents mobilized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement swooped down upon the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, on May 12 to try to seize some 697 undocumented workers for whom arrest warrants had been prepared. The close to 400 workers caught at the plant were not rounded up for deportation. Rather, this was part of a concerted campaign to criminalize the undocumented immigrant. Thus, the workers were criminally charged with “aggravated identity theft” and “Social Security fraud” for using other peoples’ social security numbers or made up numbers.
Just as Katrina demonstrated the government’s indifference towards the poor, primarily Black population of New Orleans, the anti-immigrant raids in Postville exposed this government’s determination to run roughshod over the human rights of another significant segment of the U.S. population–the millions of undocumented who work in U.S. fields and factories, in construction, and in cleaning offices, hotels and homes. The immigrant without papers has become the new Other within our borders. The near police-state actions of the Federal government in Iowa resulted in the jailing of some 387 Guatemalan and Mexican workers, followed by rapid-fire Orwellian court proceedings and harsh sentencing. At the same time, Postville brought forth resistance to the unjust conditions of immigrant life and labor in this “land of the free.”
Women led off the rally at San Francisco ICE headquarters on Aug. 22 demanding rights for immigrant workers.
On Sunday July 27, 1,000-plus marched in little Postville, opposing the police-state tactics used by the government against hundreds of Agriprocessors workers who continue to be imprisoned, protesting against the working conditions at the plant, and demanding legalization of undocumented workers.
Arrested workers were transported to the National Cattle Congress, a 60-acre cattle fairground that was transformed into a detention center. The next day began with hothouse, fraudulent legal procedures that led to prison terms. Erik Camayd-Freixas, one of the many Spanish language interpreters the government brought in, described the process:
“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, É some in tears, others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment. They all spoke Spanish, a few rather laboriously. It dawned on me that, aside from their Guatemalan or Mexican nationality, which was imposed on their people after independence, they too were Native Americans, in shackles. They stood out in stark racial contrast with the rest of us as they started their slow penguin march across the makeshift court.” (For his full report, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14ed-camayd.pdf).
The preparations for the Postville Agriprocessors plant raid included a diabolical scheme to insure that the Guatemalan and Mexican working men and women would have no choice but to face months of jail time before deportation. The government would only agree to withdraw the trumped-up charge of “aggravated identity theft” if those arrested would agree to plead guilty to knowingly using a false social security number and serve five months in a U.S. jail, and then be immediately deported without a hearing. If any chose to not accept this plea agreement they would have had to remain in jail even longer, six to eight months awaiting trial, with no access to bail because they were undocumented. Even if found not guilty they would still be deported. And if they lost at trial, they would receive a two-year minimum sentence. No wonder they chose the plea agreement. It meant the least amount of jail time in this charade.
The whole procedure, from plea agreement to five month sentences, to being shipped off to various jails, was carried out in a rapid-fire four days. As Erik Camayd-Freixas put it, “The work had oddly resembled a judicial assembly line where the meatpackers were mass processed.”
The result was devastation for the hundreds arrested, as well as for children and family members left in limbo. A third of Postville’s population ceased to be a part of the community. Children disappeared from schools. Many families took refuge in St. Bridget’s Catholic Church fearing to come out in face of the arrests and future deportation. However at the same time, there began a movement of resistance, starting with exposing Agriprocessors.
AGRIPROCESSORS, THE REAL CRIMINALS
Two groups of those arrested were released before the kangaroo-court proceedings–youth who were underage, and thus had been illegally hired to work in the plant, and women with children who needed to be cared for. The women still faced charges, and the youth and women still would come under deportation orders.
In Iowa, it is illegal for a company to employ anyone under 18 on the floor of a meatpacking plant. At least seventeen youth between 14 and 17 years of age were seized in the raid. Now in oral depositions the youth told their stories.
Elmer L., a Guatemalan young man who started working at the plant when he was 16, spoke of 17-hour days: “I worked from 6 in the morning until 11 at night. I slept from midnight until 5 in the morning–5 hours. . . .They did not pay me for all the overtime I worked. They told me if I did not work all that time, I would lose my job. My work was very hard because they didn’t give me my breaks, and I wasn’t getting very much sleep. I had to work to provide for my family. They told us they were going to call immigration if we complained about not getting our overtime pay and our breaks . . . I was very sad and I felt like I was a slave.”
A 16-year-old young woman, Gilda O., spoke of the speed-up demands: “I worked at night. I started at 7:30 and I got off at five or six in the morning. I worked on line plucking feathers off the chickens. . . . When I started I could hardly keep my eyes open. But later I got more used to it. In the plant they made us hurry up as much as we possibly could.”
Those quotes could have come right out of Marx’s description in Capital of English factories of the mid-19th century.
Long before the Postville raid–not against the dreadful conditions on the slaughterhouse floor, but against the undocumented men and women who took these dangerous, exploitative jobs–Agriprocessors was already well known as a vile, unhealthy killing floor. As the NY Times noted:
“A slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, develop[ed] an ugly reputation for abusing animals and workers. Reports of dirty, dangerous conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant accumulate[d] for years, told by workers, union organizers, immigrant advocates and government investigators. A videotape by an animal-rights group show[ed] workers pulling the windpipes out of living cows. A woman with a deformed hand t[old] a reporter of cutting meat for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages that labor ex-perts call the lowest in the industry. This year, federal investigators amass[ed] evidence of rampant illegal hiring at the plant, which has been called ‘a kosher “Jungle.”‘” (“‘The Jungle Again,’” NY Times, August 1, 2008). But in our upside down world, it is the workers who are criminalized, not the company.
PERILS OF UNDOCUMENTED WOMEN
Terrible dangers especially await undocumented women coming to the United States. At Agriprocessors, it took the form of sexual harassment. If you wanted a shift change or a promotion, you had to grant sexual favors to this or that supervisor.
The terrible threat to the lives of undocumented women often begins far earlier. Rape has become commonplace on both sides of the Mexico-Arizona border. Rape is now considered “the price of admission” for women crossing the border illegally. According to Dr. Sylvanna Falc—n: “Anyone from coyotes to U.S. officials, they all have the upper hand here. . . . Our society takes rape seriously, but it doesn’t take this type of rape seriously. In all of our national discourse around securing our borders, rarely, if ever, do you hear about any kind of protection for people who might be crossing. Largely, that’s because the discussion has been framed around protecting us–protecting the U.S.–and once you get into that framework, what happens to the other person is not even on the radar.” (Quoted in the Tucson Weekly, June 9, 2008.)
OPPRESSION AND REVOLT
Hundreds of new laws have been passed at the state and city levels seeking to restrict the opportunities and rights of undocumented immigrants. The draconian federal persecution and anti-immigrant state and local laws are capitalism’s response to a new mass movement among immigrant workers, the high-point of which so far was on May 1, 2006. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and their allies gave a new significance to May Day, whose origin was in Chicago of the 1880s, centered on the fight for a shorter working day.
The July 27 march in Postville, Iowa, brought people from a number of Midwest cities. The demonstration included dozens of undocumented women workers from the plant who were out of jail because they had to take care of young children. Required to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets openly, and with a future of jail and deportation, they were in the forefront of resistance. They were joined by a coalition of forces:
- Members of the St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville who have supported the undocumented workers and their families ever since the raids, providing shelter, food, financial and moral support.
- Rabbis and members of Jewish congregations who were outraged that Agriprocessors runs a kosher meatpacking plant in such a degrading manner. They were calling for the revision of kosher food certification to include standards of corporate ethics and treatment of workers. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed at the way Agriprocessors has treated its workers,” said one Jewish activist. “I don’t think it’s kosher meat. I think they’re pulling a farce on the Jews of this country.”
- Latino activists expressing solidarity with the undocumented Latin American workers. Labor activists joined in as well, some from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who had been trying to organize the plant for a number of years.
Today’s persecution and criminalization of undocumented workers is trying to destroy the movement among immigrant workers, many of whom came north after they were forced off the land as a result of trade agreements like NAFTA. Previously businesses used undocumented workers in many areas like agriculture and construction and as strike-breakers. The new demagoguery is aimed at dividing workers in general and especially within immigrant communities between those who have documents and those who don’t. Now is the time for the firmest international solidarity with immigrant workers, fighting the chauvinism, false patriotism and political manipulation that is growing in this demagogic electoral moment.
As we go to press, the ICE has mounted another massive and brutal raid in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, at Howard Industries, where nearly half the 800 workers are Latino/a. There are reports of parents snatched by ICE agents and given no time to make arrangements for the care of their children left alone. Those arrested face not only federal laws, but a draconian Senate Bill 2988 that makes it a felony to work without authorization in Mississippi and imposes a one to five year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. This outrage must end!