Shelf Life: Immorally Detained in the Immigration Raids

Workplace raids turn victims into criminals. The alt press is all over the story.


| January-February 2009



Immigration Raid Photo

More than 6,200 people were arrested for showing up to work in 2008, casualties of an unprecedented surge in raids by immigration officials. The workplace raids made big headlines, which dutifully announced staggering arrest counts in Postville, Iowa (389), Greenville, South Carolina (330), Laurel, Mississippi (592), and other cities and towns.

In the absence of meaningful immigration reform, we’ve arrived at a de facto policy that punishes workers, not the corporate bosses who benefit from their low wages and long hours. Just 135 of last year’s 6,200 workplace arrests were owners, supervisors, or managers, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. What’s more, a raid puts a community through the ringer: People are afraid to leave their homes to go to the grocery store or to their jobs. Children, some who are U.S. citizens, unknowingly sit through math class while their parents are hauled off to a remote detention center. Once-flourishing church congregations wilt and wither.

The raids are the most visible symptom of a dysfunctional system—and, perversely, the government may be stepping them up to push for the policies that corporate America wants. Writing for the Nation (Oct. 6, 2008), David Bacon argues that the dramatic expansion of workplace raids is part of ICE’s strategy to convince Congress to pass “an immigration reform package centered on guest-worker programs,” which by nature tend to stifle workers’ rights by limiting their ability to organize.

In the meantime, ICE dabbles in its own brand of union busting. A Washington Monthly (May-July 2008) investigation found “disturbing evidence to suggest that unscrupulous employers are leaning heavily on ICE” to threaten undocumented workers involved in unionization drives or complaints about working conditions. In These Times (Nov. 2008) notes that the Howard Industries electronics factory in Laurel, Mississippi, site of the largest workplace raid on record, “was in the midst of contentious union contract negotiations” when agents stormed in on August 25. And a May raid on the Postville, Iowa, Agriprocessors plant stopped a unionization drive dead in its tracks, reports Labor Notes (Sept. 2008). Just another example of the ICE acting as a “rogue agency,” a union spokesman told the magazine.

Raids drum up plenty of fear among undocumented workers, their families, and their communities, and so does another much-criticized ICE initiative: the 287(g) program, which trains local police to “enforce immigration law.” ICE likes to toot its crime-stopping horn, but in Arizona’s Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times (Oct. 2 and July 10, 2008), the 287(g) program basically boils down to racial profiling—“roundups of Mexicans and anybody who looks Mexican.” People are being deported for minor crimes like driving without a license or a seat belt. In North Carolina, five men were arrested for fishing without licenses and later deported, reports the Independent Weekly (Aug. 13, 2008).

ICE proudly claims that it deported 349,041 “illegal aliens” last year. That’s 60,000 more people than the agency “removed” in 2007, an increase the Washington Post (Oct. 5, 2008) attributes in part to 287(g), which has “essentially transformed police, state troopers, deputies, and jail and prison guards into part-time immigration enforcers,” the Phoenix New Times reports.

name withheld
4/10/2009 3:02:48 PM

Ok, I have to say it.. I am just sick of this whole argument. Here is the bottom line for you whining supporters of criminal behavior. You people are lucky I am not the president. Because this is how it would go down. 1. If the person is in the country illegally, then they take their chances like any other criminal. If they get caught, they go.. to jail first, then back to the country of origin. You are acting in a criminal fashion, entering and working in the country illegally. Don't cry to the world when you end up in jail like any other criminal. 2. Just because someone who is in this country illegally manages to drop a kid while here shouldn't give the parents an anchor to the country. If they are here illegally, then so is their kid. If they go, so does their kid. 3. Having big rallies waving mexican flags and demanding your civil rights only pisses us off. GET IT INTO YOUR HEADS YOU FRIGGING MORONS! IF YOU ARE HERE ILLEGALLY, YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS UNDER OUR CONSTITUTION. IF YOU DID, WE WOULDN'T BE ARGUING THIS ANYMORE. THE COURTS WOULD HAVE ALREADY RULED IN YOUR FAVOR! Future rallies of this nature will be met with INS bus tours with national guard escort. You idiots want to make it easy for us by all gathering in one spot, be my guest. Now, go ahead and call me a bigot. Tell me that I am a racist. Tell me how I am only saying this because I hate mexicans. I will laugh in your face.. Because you see, I don't hate my own race, only the criminals living within it. Name withheld American Citizen since 1976 originally from Guadalajara.