The federal government’s immigration enforcement in recent years, including a heavy reliance on workplace raids and the involvement of state and local police in immigration enforcement, has resulted in a trampling of labor rights of workers.
So says a new report “ICED OUT | How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights” (the name reminds me of Breakthrough’s video game ICED – I Can End Deportation!).
Drawing on case studies from across the country – including California, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida and Oregon – the report examines a series of alarming incidents between 2005 and 2008 in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken action at the behest of employers, conducted raids in the midst of labor disputes and even arrested workers on the courthouse steps while they were standing up for their rights.
An MOU from 1998 established a firewall between immigration and labor law enforcement to limit abusive treatment of workers but has largely been ignored, leading to serious impacts for on native and immigrant workers.
Like Josue Diaz, an immigrant worker who was recruited from a day laborer corner in New Orleans to work on reconstruction efforts in Texas after Hurricanes Ike. “We were forced to live in tents in an isolated labor camp at an abandoned oil refinery, we were made to work in toxic conditions without safety equipment, we were subjected to racist and dehumanizing treatment, and when we protested the discrimination and illegal treatment, our employer…called local police and ICE. We were arrested immediately. Instead of enforcing our labor rights against the company, the police and ICE tried to turn us into criminals.”
Or a series of very high profile raids from 2006-8 which captured the headlines, including a food processing plant in Portland, Oregon, just after local media reported on the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the workers in the plant. And let’s not forget the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in Postville, Iowa which resulted in the arrest of 389 workers, the same plant that was being investigated by 3 other agencies for serious labor violations.
And although ICE claims that the focus of its worksite enforcement is on employers that “egregiously
violate immigration laws”, for 2008 the agency made 6,287 arrests for immigration offenses at workplaces of which only a small fraction (2.1 percent) were of employers. At the same time, the labor department has cut back its own enforcement of the labor laws as reported in a recent Government Accountability Office report.
The only people who really benefit from this are employers who can terrify workers into accepting substandard wages, unsafe conditions, and lack of benefits. It’s time to stop letting immigration enforcement overshadow the equally important goal of protecting labor rights.