August 12, 2019
Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a series of raids at seven meat-packing houses in six small towns near Jackson, Mississippi. The raids led to ICE holding 680 people, 300 eventually released until future immigration court dates, the rest were sent to an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. We covered the arrests in the Dispatch here and here last week. As we move into this week, the ramifications of the raid are becoming clearer.
The first theme to hold up is that the community is mobilizing to provide support to people who were arrested and their family members. The Southeast Immigration Rights Network (SEIRN) has been providing support through its 29-member organization network. A few ways to help:
- For needed volunteer capacity & resources, fill out this form to identify how you can help and SEIRN will follow-up with more info.
- Circulate the hotline for MS community members affected: (978) 993-3300.
- Fundraising efforts, including a fund for families, are currently being coordinated - follow SEIRN for updates.
Secondly, the people arrested are a part of these communities, some for a very long time. The disruptions caused by the raids, and the arrests go well beyond the factory gates. The day after the raid, nearly 25 percent of the kids in one school district did not attend school - the next day the entire district went on lockdown after threatening calls were made. Local businesses that serve the Latinx community were closed, creating fears of longer term economic impacts. CNN captures some of the anxiety in the video below.
Thirdly, the companies involved are all pleading innocence, but in reality knew they were employing people not authorized to work in the United States - and profited enormously from doing so. For example, Koch Industries has a history of doing this - and getting caught:
In August 2007, immigration agents arrested more than 160 employees of a Koch Foods chicken plant in Fairfield, Ohio, and was fined around a half a million dollars. At the time, ICE said Koch Foods was being investigated for federal crimes including encouraging, inducing or harboring immigrants in the United States illegally.
Koch has also recently settled a lawsuit concerning sexual misconduct against employees at the Mississippi plant. Threats to turn workers who complained over to immigration were a common feature of testimony given in depositions:
In the EEOC lawsuit, one Koch Foods employee without legal immigration status alleged that a manager sexually harassed his wife and made him pay to use the bathroom, once waiting until he had soiled himself to give him permission to leave his spot on the production line.
“If he found out that I had talked about anything that he was doing, charging money, the way he mistreated us, the dirty words he used; he told me that if I went to complain in the office that he had contacts in immigration,” the worker said in a 2012 deposition that was filed as part of the suit. “And that he knew where I lived.”
Maria Cazorla, a Cuban immigrant and lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the company that was wrapped into the EEOC case, said in an interview on Thursday that a manager inappropriately touched her and hit her then-husband, also a co-worker, in the ribs while he was working.
According to Cazorla’s interview and court documents, her husband at the time was targeted by management and fired over his immigration status after she filed her lawsuit against the company in 2010. Cazorla, now a U.S. citizen, left the company and Mississippi and now renovates houses in Florida.
She said immigrants are often fearful of reporting abuse. “People are afraid to come forward because they think, ‘What will happen if I say something? I’ll be separated from my family, I’ll lose my job,’” Cazorla said. “They prefer to say nothing and suffer.”
So, the companies hire people they probably know (must certainly suspect) are unauthorized to work, use that status to threaten them, and then ICE rolls up and actually arrests a bunch of people - adding to the fear. The companies may be fined - a pittance - and someone may lose their job, but mostly little will happen to the companies. Trump made clear who that targets ultimately are.
He said on Friday that actions like the one this week served “as a very good deterrent” to those in the country illegally. “When people see what they saw,” he said, “they know that they’re not staying here.”
This is the politics of fear - and the companies themselves have little to worry about.
Although none of the people who may have been responsible for hiring the unauthorized workers have been charged, both ICE and the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Mississippi have said employers are part of their ongoing investigation.
We’re not holding our breath. Meanwhile, the beat goes on...really, you can’t make this stuff up: Koch Food is hosting a job fair today to replace the people who were arrested. Please bring two forms of I.D. if interested in applying.
Finally, if you don’t like all of this, Trump has a message for you: Shut up! Among those who have been some of Trump’s most vocal critics are immigration judges. Now he wants to decertify their union. From The Hill:
The Trump administration has reportedly taken a step to decertify an immigration judges’ union that has been repeatedly critical of President Trump and the White House’s policy proposals.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson told The New York Times on Friday that the department filed a petition to the Federal Labor Relations Authority asking whether the National Association of Immigration Judges could have its certification revoked since its members are “management officials” and unable to collectively organize.
Members of the union have denounced the move as misguided and as an attempt to dismantle the group.
“This is a misguided effort to minimize our impact,” Judge Amiena Khan, vice president of the judges’ union, told the Times. “We serve as a check and balance on management prerogatives and that’s why they are doing this to us."
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the union’s president, told The Washington Post that she thinks the petition is an attempt to “disband and destroy the union."
Immigration judges are unique in that, unlike federal judges, they are appointed by the attorney general and considered employees of the DOJ, the Times noted. Representatives of the immigration judges' union are permitted to publicly speak about DOJ policies that are deemed political. Sitting judges are prohibited from doing so.
Khan and Tabaddor have continued to publicly criticize the Trump administration's policies throughout the president's two-plus years in the White House. For example, the union in 2018 condemned an administration quota system that required judges to complete 700 cases annually.