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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 4

Subject:

Federal Raids Against Immigrant Workers on the Rise

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Date:

Tue, 28 Dec 2010 22:17:10 -0500

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text/plain (276 lines)

Federal Raids Against Immigrant Workers on the Rise

By David Bacon 

Race, Poverty & the Environment Fall 2010

http://urbanhabitat.org/node/5826

While the criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona
continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers
because of their immigration status has become an
increasingly bitter fact of life across the country. The
number of workplace raids carried out by the Obama
administration is staggering. Tens, maybe even hundreds of
thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers.

According to public records obtained by Syracuse University,
the latest available data from the Justice Department show
that criminal immigration enforcement by the two largest
investigative agencies within the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) has increased to levels comparable to the
highest seen during the Bush Administration.  Homeland
Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that almost 400,000
people were deported last year, the highest number in the
country's history.

But deportations are only part of the story.  Much less
visible is the other arm of current immigration enforcement
policy -- the firing of workers.  The justification is brutal
-- if immigrant workers can't work, and therefore can't eat,
pay rent, or provide for their families, they'll have no
alternative but to leave the country.

In a recent action DHS pressured one of San Francisco's major
building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its
own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless
they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their
jobs in the near future.

ABM has been a union company for decades, and many of the
workers have been there for years. "They've been working in
this industry for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years in the
buildings downtown," says Olga Miranda, president of Service
Employees Local 87.  "They've built homes.  They've provided
for their families. They've sent their kids to college.
They're not new workers.  They didn't just get here a year
ago."

Those workers are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should
they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, who might
charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to
their employer, and even hold them for deportation?  For
workers with families, homes, and deep roots in a community,
it's not possible to just walk away and disappear. "I have a
lot of members who are single mothers whose children were
born here," Miranda says.  "I have a member whose child has
leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children
here and go back to Mexico and wait?  And wait for what?"

Miranda's question reflects not just the dilemma facing
individual workers, but of 12 million undocu- mented people
living in the United States.  Since 2005, successive
Congressmen, Senators, and administrations have dangled the
prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack
it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform
have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big
increase in exactly the kind of enforcement directed at 475
San Francisco janitors.

Rhetoric vs. Policy

President Obama condemned Arizona's law that tries to make
being undocumented a state crime, saying it would "undermine
basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."  But
then he called for legislation with guest worker programs and
increased enforcement.

While the country is no closer to legalization of the
undocumented than it was 10 years ago, the enforce- ment
provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform proposals
have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush
administration conducted a high- profile series of raids in
which it sent heavily armed agents into meatpacking plants
and factories, holding workers for deportation, and sending
hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security
numbers.  It set up a new Federal court in Tucson, Arizona,
called Operation Streamline, where dozens of people are sen-
tenced to prison every day for walking across the border.

After Obama was elected President, immigration authorities
said they would follow a softer policy, using an electronic
system to find undocumented people in work- places.  People
working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired.  As
a result, last September, 2000 seamstresses in the Los
Angeles garment factory of American Apparel were fired,
followed by a month later by 1200 janitors working for ABM in
Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for
Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs.

Ironically, the Bush administration proposed a regulation
that would have required employers to fire any worker who
provided an employer with a Social Security number that did
not match the SSA database. That regulation was then stopped
in court by unions, the ACLU, and the National Immigration
Law Center.  The new administration, however, is implementing
what amounts to the same requirement, with the same
consequence of thousands of fired workers.  Mean- while, the
Operation Streamline court is still in session every day in
Arizona.

"Homeland Security is going after employers that are union,"
Miranda charges.  "They're going after employers that give
ben- efits and are paying above the average."  While American
Apparel had no union, it paid better than most Los Angeles
garment sweat- shops. Minneapolis janitors belong to SEIU
Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco jani-
tors to Local 87.

President Obama says sanctions enforcement targets employers
"who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages-
and oftentimes mistreat those workers."  An ICE Worksite
Enforcement Advi- sory claims "unscrupulous employers are
likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them
to endure intolerable working conditions."

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers
who endure them doesn't help the workers or change the
conditions, however.  And despite Obama's notion that
sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit
immigrants, at American Apparel and ABM the employers were
rewarded for cooperation by being immunized from prosecution.
Javier Murillo, president of SEIU Local 26, says, "The
promise made during the audit is that if the company
cooperates and complies, they won't be fined.  So this kind
of enforcement really only hurts workers."

ICE director John Morton says the agency is auditing the
records of 1,654 companies nationwide.  "What kind of
economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?"
Miranda asks.  "Why don't they target employers who are not
paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?"

Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the
rhetoric used by the President and other Washington, D.C.
politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and
the immigration proposals they make in Congress.  "There's a
huge contradiction here," she says.   "You can't tell one
state that what they're doing is criminalizing people, and at
the same time go after employers paying more than a living
wage and the workers who have fought for that wage."

Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former
director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more
critical.  "Those bills in Con- gress, which are presented as
ones that will help some people get legal status, will
actually make things much worse," she charges.  "We'll see
many more firings like the janitors here, and more
punishments for people who are just working and trying to
support their families."

Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even
less promise of legalization and more emphasis on punishment.
The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the
legalization program promised by the "bipartisan"
Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement at the
border and in the workplace must come before any
consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.

"We have to look at the whole picture," Saucedo urges. "So
long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create
poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to
come here, no matter how many walls we build.  Instead of
turning people into guest workers, as these bills in
Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who
don't have papers, we need to help people get legal status,
and repeal the laws that are making work a crime."

What Do We Want?

First, we want legalization, giving 12 mil- lion people
residence rights and green cards, so they can live like
normal human beings. We do not want immigration used as a
cheap labor supply system, with workers paying off
recruiters, and once here, fright- ened that they will be
deported if they lose their jobs.

We need to get rid of the laws that make immigrants criminals
and working a crime. No more detention centers, no more ankle
bracelets, no more firings and no-match let- ters, and no
more raids.  We need equality and rights.  All people in our
communities should have the same rights and status.

We have to make sure that those who say they advocate for
immigrants are not re- ally advocating for low wages.  That
the de- cision-makers of Washington, D.C. will not plunge
families in Mexico, El Salvador, or Colombia into poverty, or
force a new gen- eration of workers to leave home and go
through the doors of furniture factories and laundries,
office buildings and packing plants, onto construction sites,
or into the gardens and nurseries of the rich.

Families in Mexico, Guatemala, El Sal- vador, or the
Philippines deserve a decent life, too.  They have a right to
survive, a right to not migrate. To make that right a
reality, they need jobs and productive farms, good schools
and healthcare.  Our government must stop negotiating trade
agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and instead prohibit the use
of trade and economic policy that causes poverty and
displacement.

Those people who do choose to come here to work deserve the
same things that every other worker has. We all have the same
rights, and the same needs-jobs, schools, medical care, a
decent place to live, and the right to walk the streets or
drive our cars without fear.

Major changes in immigration policy are not possible if we do
not fight at the same time for these other basic needs:
jobs, edu- cation, housing, healthcare, justice.  But these
are things that everyone needs, not just immigrants. And if
we fight together, we can stop raids, and at the same time
create a more just society for everyone-immigrant and non-
immigrant alike.

Is this possible?

In 1955, at the height of the cold war, braceros and farm
workers did not think change would ever come. Growers had all
the power and farm workers none. Ten years later we had a new
immigration law protect- ing families and the bracero program
was over.  A new union for farm workers was on strike in
Delano.

We can have an immigration system that respects human rights.
We can stop depor- tations. We can win security for working
families on both sides of our borders.

Yes, it's possible. ¡Si se puede!

For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org

See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates
Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008
http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the
US Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press,
2006) http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico
Border (University of California, 2004)
http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html

__________________________________

David Bacon, Photographs and Stories http://dbacon.igc.org

___________________________________________

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