by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow
On February 25, a labor-union commission held its first hearing to review the raids that ICE conducted on December 12, 2006 in six Swift meat-processing plants throughout the country. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) formed the commission to examine the policies and practices used by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) during work-site enforcement operations. According to the Washington Post, the ICE raids at the Swift plants raised due process and constitutional rights concerns.
The commission will draft a report based on hearings that it will hold throughout the country and distribute the report's findings to elected leaders and the public. The report will also include policy action recommendations.
Swift Plant Employee Testifies at Congressional Hearing
The UFCW-held meeting mirrors a February 13th House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Subcommittee hearing that raised serious concerns regarding the detention and deportation of individuals who are arbitrarily swept up in ICE worksite and home raids. Michael Graves, member of the UFCW International Union and a Swift plant employee in Marshalltown (Iowa) was one of the seven witnesses at the hearing.
Mr. Graves gave a chilling account of his experience the day ICE raided Marshalltown's Swift plant. He recounted how he and hundreds of his co-workers were detained for 8 hours without food or water. In addition, they were not given the opportunity to contact their families, union representatives or lawyers.
According to Mr. Graves, "No one in this country, regardless of their status, should be treated the way we were treated at the Marshalltown Swift plant or any of the Swift plants. Working is not a crime, and workers do not leave their constitutional rights at the plant gate."
Witnesses Reveal Harsh Reality Behind Raids, Detentions and Deportations
Other witnesses at the February 13th hearing represented a broad spectrum of organizations, including some involved in lawsuits regarding the deportation of U.S. citizens. Their statements shed light on how U.S. citizens, such as Mr. Graves, are apprehended in worksite raids and sometimes even deported.
Mistakes have increased as state and local prisons with limited or little experience in complex immigration matters screen individuals apprehended in ICE raids, according to Rachel E. Rosenbloom, a Human Rights Fellow at the Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice. "[W]ith increasing cooperation between local and state law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the review of an individual's immigration status is now frequently made by law enforcement officers with minimal training in immigration law," she said.
Congressional Leaders Raise Serious Concerns Regarding Racial Profiling
Throughout the hearing, there were significant discrepancies between the testimony of Gary Mead, Deputy Director at ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations, and the remarks made by both members of Congress and other key witnesses. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) countered Mr. Mead's assertion that the agency does not target individuals based on nationality.
Representative Gutierrez noted the raid of a public mall in Chicago's Little Village community area. According to Congressman Gutierrez, the ICE official who oversaw the raid "went with the U.S. attorney standing next to her and said, 'We were determined to walk into this mall and detain every Hispanic male between the ages of 18 and 45.'" Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) also raised concerns that Latinos have been a principal target of ICE raids over the last twelve months.
Organizations and Congress Members Insist on Answers
In order to ensure that due process, and the civil rights of immigrant and non-immigrant workers are duly protected, the UFCW, civil rights groups and Congressional leaders have pledged to continue to challenge ICE and pressure for institutional accountability and transparency. This includes making sure that the wrongful deportation of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident does not occur.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, explained that on June 26, 2007, she forwarded a letter to ICE for answers on the case of Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen from Los Angeles who was deported to Mexico in May 2007. According to Representative Lofgren, she received a "perfunctory response more than a month later with no answers, and at best an apathetic attitude towards protecting U.S. citizens from deportation."