Oakland, CA- May 19, 2008 - The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) condemns the latest Department of Homeland Security immigration raid carried out on Monday, May 12, by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against immigrant workers at a meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa. ICE has committed a flagrant injustice under the cover of law and must be held accountable.
ICE's actions have left the people of Postville in a state of shock, as its very social and economic well-being has been called into question, threatening the future of its residents. After the ICE raid, scores of immigrant workers and their family members fled to a local church, seeking sanctuary at St. Bridget Church.
Workers at the Postville plant were reported to be in a labor dispute with employers. Despite policy prohibiting immigration police interference and ignoring union organizers' pleas, ICE amassed a small army and proceeded to carry out a massive operation in the early hours of the day. ICE used two helicopters and brought in over 200 federal, county and local police agents including from ICE, the FBI and other federal and local agencies, and dozens of vehicles and buses to haul off workers.
ICE began unleashing a series of raids in different parts of the country that started right before and continued after the national May 1 mass mobilizations. In mid-April, ICE immigration enforcement raids struck Poultry Pride plants in five different states, another meat processing company, arresting over 300 workers. Then on May 2 in northern California, ICE took action against a small family-own restaurant chain in six cities, arresting over 60 workers. Then during May 5-6, ICE stationed themselves in front of one elementary public school and one high school in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, arresting at least four persons and scaring the hell out students, parents and workers. ICE arrests hundreds of documented and undocumented immigrants every day in border and non-border regions of the country, incarcerating as many 30,000 immigrants on any given week, through raids and other means.
The Biggest Raid to Cover Up Immigrant Jail Abuses?
ICE's timing of the Postville raids is also questionable. In the days leading up to this raid, major newspapers reports were exposing the harsh conditions ICE subjects persons to in immigration detention, including the revelation that dozens of immigrants have died in detention over the last few years from abusive treatment and lack of medical care.
Then ICE delivered a devastating blow to Postville, a small town with 2,273 residents. By calling the Postville the largest raid in history, ICE was drawing attention away from the on-going exposé of the harsh conditions in ICE jails. While ICE has arrested more workers in previous sweeps, in Postville some 390 workers were arrested, out of some 900 workers at the plant.
ICE gave the Postville immigrant community no warning of this monstrous assault. In the weekend before the ICE raid, community members were aghast at the preparations they were witnessing: Department of Homeland Security began amassing police agents and the resources to carry out this crushing blow against workers, including setting up a temporary jail at a nearby "Cattle Congress" facility, where the men were jailed. Women were put in the local jail.
After the raid, ICE stifled the immigrant workers access to legal counsel. And, in the days and weeks leading up to the raid, in a multi-agency collaboration DHS investigations included getting addresses, social security numbers and other private information about the workers' families, youth and students from the local school district.
Stop the ICE Raids, End Detentions and Deportations
ICE wields raids for their multiple political and social impacts, sweeping up more immigrants than are usually named on their warrants. Intimidating and terrifying, work-site and other immigration raids account for about 2% of all immigrants who are detained and deported yearly. Almost 5,000 immigrants were deported through raids, out of over 260,000, in fiscal year 2007.
ICE deliberately uses raids to send shock waves through immigrant communities, to repress rights and suppress organizing efforts, as well as to promote and showcase new enforcement policies and strategies. The results are devastating: families are separated, communities are traumatized and the economic losses caused by immigration enforcement are almost exclusively borne by immigrants and their communities.
ICE's actions against Postville were a deliberate attack on the rights and wellbeing of immigrants everywhere. ICE raids expose workers to further exploitation and undermine labor rights and unions; they help perpetuate abuses and act as a cover-up mechanism for other violations that go unpunished. After an ICE raid, parents stop sending their children to school, they stop going to work, to church and avoid shopping and other public spaces out of fear. ICE makes communities vulnerable to abuse, crime and violence.
Demanding Justice and Human Rights for All
We can stop ICE raids and other ICE abuses by demanding accountability as part of organizing for justice and human rights. Immigration laws and enforcement are destroying the rights of immigrants and workers, and spell a disaster for workers and the economy. ICE immigration raids, detentions and deportations are causing untold hardships on immigrant families and their communities.
ICE claims that its policy of releasing women who may be pregnant or a parent with children with electronic ankle-bracelets is humanitarian. A humanitarian policy would ensure that all immigrants are protected from abuses, are able to work at a job with a living wage and have their labor rights upheld - not be in being held in virtual jail and forbidden to work or live without fear, to provide for their families here and abroad. ICE policies are not humanitarian and inflict great harm on our communities.
NNIRR demands that the all workers be freed and that ICE take true humanitarian actions by:
- Providing work permits to all these workers so they are not abused or exploited while their cases are pending;
- Complying with the U.S. Constitution, upholding their due process rights with full access to legal counsel and access to the courts; and,
- Ending the policy of "No-Match" letters, which ICE uses to criminalize workers and allows employers to abuse immigrants, undermining the civil and labor rights of all.
Express Solidarity with the Postville Immigrant Workers and Families
Show your solidarity with the Postville community. Please consider sending a generous donation to help provide legal services and cover the basic needs of the immigrant workers and their families who were affected by the ICE raid. Many families have sought refuge at their local church and need support to raise their voices and assert their rights.
Make your check or money order payable to "St. Bridget Hispanic Ministry Fund," write "Postville raid" in the memo and mail to:
St Bridget Church
ATTN: Sr. Mary McCauley PO Box 369
Postville, IA 52162
Tel. (563) 864-3138
Take Action for Justice & Human Rights
Organize a vigil, a community meeting, call and fax your Congressional Delegation and other elected officials, talk to your neighbors and co-workers, to speak out against ICE immigration raids and call for an end to all detentions and deportations! We can prevent abuses from taking place by organizing and demanding justice and human rights for all.
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