LatinaLista — In Washington, D.C. tomorrow, there will be a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections to discuss the impact of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on children and what can possibly be done to prevent the ensuing trauma experienced by these children.
One of the raids that will be used as an example is the recent raid in Postville, Iowa. Deemed the largest raid in the country, by ICE officials, the aftershocks of the raid have been rattling the community ever since, and with good reason.
Postville detainees being led to detention.
As one Lutheran minister explained, Postville is a town of less than 3,000 people â€” Mexicans, Anglos, Jewish, Guatemalans, etc. Unlike big cities, each ethnic group doesn’t have an area of town designated their part of town â€” they all live together. It’s the kind of assimilation that would make the harshest critic of Spanish-speaking immigrants proud.
But for exactly that reason, the community as a whole is reeling from the raid. As the minister said, the raid basically took one-third of the community’s population. That kind of loss is devastating for the families, the children and the local economy.
Yet, a story that is slowly surfacing, and which is on par in its appalling nature as the raid’s impact on the children, is the fact that ICE disrupted a state investigation into an important child labor violations investigation at the Agriprocessors plant.
An investigation that is now dead.
It seems that Agriprocessors is hardly the benevolent employer. Come to find out that Agriprocessors has a record of “grotesquely” abusing, exploiting and putting the health and safety of their workforce at risk.
Among those abuses was the hiring of kids to work in the plant. Earlier, Latina Lista reported that several juveniles were arrested among the workers during the worksite raid. What we didn’t know at the time was just how young some of these workers were.
It is being reported that some were as young as 13-years-old. It’s also come to light that management from the plant would routinely try and recruit kids from the town’s middle school to work in the plant.
In fact, their record for exploiting children and abusing their immigrant labor force was so widely known that state authorities were working with some of the undocumented immigrants to expose Agriprocessors’ management.
Even the United Food and Commercial Workers Union got involved with the investigation. They wrote to ICE to request that an immigration enforcement action not take place, citing fears that it would undercut the enforcement of labor laws intended to protect all of the workers at the plant.
ICE ignored that request. Hardly surprising from an agency whose director is trying to ignore 30 environmental laws to build a border fence.
But it is surprising because isn’t the whole purpose of these immigration raids, besides rounding up undocumented immigrants, is to fine, arrest and expose those employers who not only take advantage of undocumented labor but also abuse and exploit them?
So far, with all the hundreds of employees that ICE has arrested in these raids, only 17 employers have been fined. The management at Agriprocessors were back the next day hiring and conducting business as usual. They must feel pretty untouchable when it comes to how they treat their employees, especially since anyone who could have provided evidence against them were detained by ICE and are now in deportation proceedings.
A company that is brazen enough to openly violate child labor practices and abuse their employees isn’t going to blink an eye in hiring further undocumented immigrants and treating them any way they want to.
For a company whose reputation was known to be so abusive that state officials, along with a worker’s union, AND undocumented immigrant workers were willing to work together to put a halt to this kind of worker abuse says a lot about the magnitude of the offenses.
That ICE would totally disregard this request just to STAGE an intimidating presence demands a review of ICE’s actions, their authority and their motivation in carrying out worksite raids.
What would have been the difference had they waited until after the investigation?
We’ll never know but one thing is certain â€” there would have been one less company out there not just exploiting immigrant labor and feeding off the desperation of a people who only want to work, and so will submit themselves to inhumane conditions, but one less company that will never forget that all workers, undocumented or not, have rights too.
Update: It seems ICE is feeling the heat for disrupting the state investigation. The Des Moines Register reports this afternoon:
Nearly 70 workers arrested in last weekâ€™s Postville meatpacking raid pleaded guilty Monday to a less severe fraud charge in exchange for a 5-month jail sentence followed by an immediate plane ride out of the U.S.
The deal also opens the possibility that many of the workers could testify against their employer, Agriprocessors, Inc., should charges against managers arise. At least 20 more hearings were scheduled later Monday evening, after press time, to confirm similar plea bargains in U.S. District Court.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped more serious identity-theft charges which would have carried a mandatory 2-year minimum prison sentence.
â€œI know you came to this country to work hard and support your families,â€ U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett told one group. â€œUnfortunately, the laws of the U.S.A. say that what you did was illegal. But I want on behalf of our courts to wish you the best of luck.â€