immigrant community in Iowa devastated by ICE raid

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An immigrant community in Iowa was shattered yesterday by a huge ICE raid that appears to still be in progress.  Susan Saulny of the New York Times reports:

In the biggest workplace immigration raid this year, federal agents swept into a kosher meat plant on Monday in Postville, Iowa, and arrested more than 300 workers.

The authorities said the workers were suspected of being in the United States illegally or of having participated in identity theft and the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not say how many people had been rounded up beyond the initial 300 or whether the management and owners of the plant, AgriProcessors, would face criminal charges.

The plant has 800 to 900 people and is the country's largest producer of meat that is glatt kosher, widely regarded as the highest standard of cleanliness.

The plant shut temporarily.

The agents set up a perimeter around the 60-acre plant, in northeastern Iowa, and entered on the morning shift, carrying out two search warrants, federal authorities said. An affidavit filed in court before the raid by the Homeland Security Department cited "the issuance of 697 criminal complaints and arrest warrants against persons believed to be current employees" and to have acted criminally.

The affidavit said a former plant supervisor had told investigators that a methamphetamine laboratory had operated at the plant and that some employees had carried weapons to the plant. The former supervisor, the affidavit said, estimated that 80 percent of the employees were in the United States illegally.

The consequences this disgruntled ex-employee will face if the information he provided turns out to be incomplete or untrue: absolutely none.  This is another result of a system where workers have severely limited legal protections.  Unhappy co-workers can retaliate completely outside of the established employee discrimination laws.  Don't like the hue of your workplace?  Upset that your co-workers are speaking a language you don't understand and playing norteƱo on the radio?  A quick phone call to ICE can change all of that. 

The Des Moines Register has a detailed piece on the raid.

In February 2008, a confidential informant identified as "Source 7," who has worked with federal agents in past immigration cases, detailed several incidents of alleged worker abuse at the plant.

The source, who was lawfully employed at the plant, told authorities that a floor supervisor duct-taped the eyes of an illegal Guatemalan employee and struck him with a meat hook. The blow caused no serious injuries.

"Source 7" asked the Guatemalan to report the incident, but the employee said doing so could jeopardize his job.

So the solution is ... to deport him and break up his family, if he has one here. 

Abuses will occur in a system where workers have no legal protections.  One would hope we've come to a place where we realize that punishing the workers is not the solution to systematic worker abuse.  But our government is a long way from that realization right now.

Rumors of the raid preceded the act.

Workers and immigration advocates in Iowa began girding for an immigration raid last week after learning that federal authorities had leased Waterloo's Cattle Congress fairgrounds. Federal officials declined to explain their plans last week, but advocates worried the fairgrounds would be used as a detention center. That's what happened in December 2006, when federal agents took people apprehended in a raid at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown to the Camp Dodge military base in Johnston.

This guess turned out to be right.

The Waterloo Cattle Congress grounds will serve as an intake center, said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman from Miami who is at the Cattle Congress grounds.

The men will be housed at Estel Hall at the Cattle Congress, but the women will be housed at local jails, she said.

It's likely no one will be at Cattle Congress past Thursday, Gonzalez said.

To ICE, these workers are little better than cattle.  Round them up and ship 'em out to make room for the next bunch. 

ICE spokesman Harold Ort in Postville did not confirm or deny that anyone had been detained, but went on to say that the children of those detained would be cared for and that "their caregiver situation will be addressed."

"They were asked multiple times if they have any sole-caregiver issues or any childcare issues," Ort said.

ICE doesn't want the PR disaster of small children dying because their parents have been detained.  ICE doesn't much mind facilitating the ongoing disaster of permanently separating children from their parents--they're not dead, the reasoning goes, so they'll get over it.  They'll be fine.  Except we know they won't.

And so it goes.


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1 Comments

kyledeb said:

When are people going to see the connection between falling wages and these oppressive worker tactics?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on May 13, 2008 7:53 AM.

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