Advocates Say Congressional Hearings Crucial to Uncovering the Truth
Washington, DC – New details are emerging about a history of sexual abuse and solicitation at the site of the largest worksite immigration raid in U.S. history. The Des Moines Register reports that some former employees of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, IA are coming forward with revelations about supervisor demands for sexual favors at the plant. These new allegations come after reports of other labor, food safety, and immigration law violations have painted Agriprocessors as the poster child for how some employers exploit our nation’s broken immigration system to profit on the backs of vulnerable workers. Past violations at Agriprocessors that have received new attention following the immigration raid last week include child labor law violations, grotesque physical abuses of employees by supervisors, and numerous health and safety violations. The Des Moines Register article is included at the bottom of this release.
“If these new sexual abuse allegations hold true, we have reached a new low point in the exploitation of vulnerable human beings,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “No one in America – citizen, visitor, or undocumented worker – should silently suffer this type of injustice and humiliation. It is not the American way. I have no doubt that every Iowan, every American, and every Member of Congress is outraged that this could happen in our great nation at the dawn of the 21st century. I call on Congress to step in and investigate what happened and the Bush Administration to protect all workers from abuse.”
The allegations about sexual abuse and solicitation come from former employees arrested in the May 12th immigration raid. These instances of abuse are being reported by Sister Mary McCauley, a Catholic nun at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, IA.
Leslye Orloff, Director of the Immigrant Women Program at Legal Momentum, the oldest legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls, also called on Congress to address our broken immigration system and protect immigrant women: “There have been numerous documented cases of this type of sexual assault and harassment of immigrant women workers throughout the country. The power disparity between employers and supervisors and immigrant workers creates conditions ripe for harassment and sexual assault by male supervisors, who threaten to report women to immigration officials if they do not comply with their demands. For this reason Legal Momentum successfully led a national effort to obtain U-visa crime victim immigration protection for immigrant victims of workplace abuse as part of the Violence Against Women Act. We call upon the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the Postville workers and any other worked detained at worksite actions are screened for and informed about their rights for protection from deportation as crime victims.”
For more details on Agriprocessors, including background information on their past history of violations, see http://www.eyeonagriprocessors.org/.
To learn more about the new allegations and how our current system is failing to protect the rights of all workers, please contact any of the following individuals:
· Leslye Orloff, Director, Immigrant Women Program, Legal Momentum (202.210.8886 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
· Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice (202-296-4280)
· Luz Hernandez, advocate on the ground in Iowa (563.380.8154 or email@example.com)
Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.
To access the video accompanying the Des Moines Register article below, please click here.
DES MOINES REGISTER: Advocates: Workers allege sexual abuse
May 20, 2008
By JENNIFER JACOBS
Reports that there was an expectation of sexual favors at Agriprocessors Inc. are beginning to emerge from workers at the Postville meat processing plant, and advocates for immigrants are trying to document the stories.
Sister Mary McCauley, a Roman Catholic nun at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, said workers have said that “there was sexual abuse, that there’s propositioning.”
She said she didn’t hear any of the stories firsthand but that others passed along the information to her.
If a worker wanted, say, a promotion or a shift change, “they’d be brought into a room with three or four men and it was like, ‘Which one do you want? Which one are you going to serve? ” McCauley said Monday in an interview with Des Moines Register editors and reporters.
“Unfortunately, they are grateful for some of their ESL classes, and they knew what some of those words meant,” she said. “If they had the courage, they could refuse it.”
Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, declined to address the allegation of sexual favors in exchange for job-related requests.
“As with any legal matter, Agriprocessors cannot comment about any specific allegation,” Abrahams said in a written statement. “The company is performing an independent investigation and will continue to cooperate with the government about this matter.”
Federal agents’ raid at Agriprocessors on May 12 was the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history. Arrest warrants were issued for 697 people who work at the plant.
Agents detained 389 people in Waterloo; of those, 306 were charged with fraud-related felonies for using fake documents to obtain a job. A total of 62 people were temporarily released for humanitarian reasons, such as child care, but they must appear in court soon.
In the Register interview, McCauley said workers say there is “definitely” one person in the area selling Social Security numbers.
That raises questions about these workers’ role in committing fraud, said Tom Chapman, an advocate for immigrants and executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.
The workers, who speak mainly Spanish, were probably not sophisticated enough to steal or create their own fake identity documents, said Armando Villareal, the administrator for the state Division of Latino Affairs.
“I don’t think they have Apple computers in their apartments with laser printers,” Villareal said.
Meanwhile, McCauley said she’s seen a new confidence in some of the immigrant women.
Most of those released on humanitarian grounds must wear an ankle bracelet that contains an electronic tracking device. Upon their release from detention, they wore long pants to conceal the GPS device, McCauley said.
“Yesterday, they had their pants legs rolled up to their knees,” she said. “You could see that they were gaining some strength within themselves.”