The highest court in the land has decided to hear the case of Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican citizen who found himself behind bars after he was convicted of “aggravated identity theft.” According to Flores-Figueroa’s lawyers, he made up a Social Security number so he could get a job at a steel plant in East Moline, Ill. He was sentenced to more than six years in prison.
According to today’s Des Moines Register, the Agriprocessors raid set taxpayers back $5.2 million. “That means it has cost taxpayers an average of $13,396 for each of the 389 illegal immigrants taken into custody.” So let’s do the math, shall we? If it cost $13,396 to arrest each undocumented worker in the United States, and estimates are that there are at least 11.5 million people who fit that definition, then you, I, and the rest of American taxpayers could be looking at forking over $154 billion to ICE alone.
The bill does not call for an end to immigration raids, although we all know the Administration’s raids policy is not going to fix illegal immigration or get the system under control. As Secretary Chertoff’s remarks last year betrayed, these raids are more about cowboy politics than effective policy. No, the Menendez-Kennedy bill is simply about reigning in the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handles its business. It is a very modest measure that asks ICE to exercise a bit of humanity, and a bit of common sense, as it goes about its campaign of immigration enforcement.
Today, leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives will hold two important hearings to examine the Bush Administration’s failure to uphold labor standards, and the need for common sense immigration reform. Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA) is also hosting a Congressional briefing to explore the impact of the Agriprocessors raid on the women and children of Postville, IA. The briefing will feature representatives from the Postville community who have been working with families separated by the immigration raid, along with experts in labor law and women in the workplace.
Immigration Reform and Protecting All American Workers
All Americans feel the pinch of our broken immigration system. Outdated immigration laws and lax enforcement against employers who hire undocumented immigrants have created a situation where unscrupulous employers can get away with paying slave wages and exploiting workers.
When egregious labor law violators are allowed to operate outside the law, the quality of every worker’s job is threatened.
For example, Agriprocessors a meatpacking company was a notorious violator of labor laws. Citing the federal government’s own search warrant application, workers caught up in the raid, and contractors brought in to replace them, dozens of news articles have exposed troubling tales of exploitation at the Postville, IA plant. Despite these revelations, no company owners or managers have been charged with an offense. Meanwhile, more than 300 Agriprocessors workers are serving jail time for crimes related to working with false papers, and nearly 400 will be deported.
Members of Congress have called on the Bush Administration to investigate Agriprocessors’ history of abuse, and enforce labor laws designed to protect all workers. In addition to stronger enforcement of labor laws, we also need a rational immigration system that brings undocumented workers out of the shadows so they can apply for legal status and exercise their labor rights. Our current immigration system is so badly broken that unscrupulous employers like Agriprocessors can exploit workers with impunity, because immigrants are too afraid of deportation to speak out. Agriprocessors is truly the poster child for our broken immigration system, and its story shows why we need common-sense reform of our immigration laws.
The allegations against Agriprocessors include:
- Underage Hiring: Meatpacking is dangerous and difficult work, and employment of underage workers is strictly prohibited. Yet many press accounts indicate that an ongoing child labor investigation at Agriprocessors was disrupted by the May 12th immigration raid (Des Moines Register, “Lawmakers: Did Postville raid stymie labor probe?” May 28, 2008). Evidence of underage hiring was in fact uncovered during the immigration raid: “Twelve juveniles were among those detained, six of whom have been released, federal officials said. The 12 juveniles were plant employees,” (Des Moines Register, “The Day After Churns up Charges, Emotions,” May 14, 2008).
- Sexual Abuse: “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 reported that “there was sexual abuse, that there’s propositioning,” (Des Moines Register, “Advocates: Workers Allege Sexual Abuse,” May 20, 2008).
- Drug Production and Fraud in the Plant: In government’s affidavit and application for a search warrant filed in conjunction with the immigration raid, a source recounted discovering an active methamphetamine lab within the plant. The source also described a physical confrontation with their supervisor after destroying the lab and “believes the incident led to [the source’s] termination,” (Application and Affadavit for Search Warrant, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa, May 9, 2008. Available via www.eyeonagriprocessors.org). Additionally, a Department of Transportation “investigation found that an Agriprocessors supervisor was forcing workers to buy cars from him and allegedly registered the cars under falsified identities. An investigator found at least 200 cars were bought in this manner,” (Associated Press, “Immigration Raid Spurs Calls for Action vs. Owners,” June 1, 2008). According to the Iowa Independent the supervisor, Hasom Amara, since fled to the country (Iowa Independent, “Agriprocessors Official Who Sold Used Cars and Favors Has Fled the Country, Residents Day,” June 20, 2008).
- Instances of Physical Abuse: The government’s search warrant application cited an incident in which an Agriprocessors supervisor “duct-taped the eyes of an employee… the floor supervisor then took one of the meat hooks and hit [the employee],” (Application and Affadavit for Search Warrant, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa, May 9, 2008. Available via www.eyeonagriprocessors.org).
- Health and Safety Violations: Labor Ready, an Iowa staffing firm contracted to fill positions left empty by the immigration raid, pulled 150 of their workers from the Agriprocessors plant 10 days after starting. According to Stacey Burke, a spokeswoman for Labor Ready’s parent company, “[t]here was a concern on the part of my field operators about the safety and care afforded to our workers. We felt as if there was a violation on our core principles,” (Des Moines Register, “Labor Contractor Pulls Workers from Agriprocessors,” May 30, 2008). Previously, the Iowa Department of Labor fined the company for “workplace safety problems including 39 citations since last October…which included improper storage and handling of hazardous chemicals and inadequate training in the use of respirators and handling of blood-borne pathogens,” (Associated Press, “Immigration Raid Spurs Calls for Action vs. Owners,” June 1, 2008). The fines were reduced to a fraction of their value. Additionally, “Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs show records of incidents that led to five amputations, dozens of reports of broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss at the plant between 2001 and 2006,” (Associated Press, “Immigration Raid Spurs Calls for Action vs. Owners,” June 1, 2008).
- Advertising in Guatemala – After the Raid: Advertisements published in Guatemalan newspapers after the May immigration raid highlighted jobs at a meatpacking plant in Postville, IA and promised an “excellent opportunity of a job in the United States,” (Iowa Independent, “After Postville Raid, Mystery Advertiser in Guatemala Sought Meatpackers,” June 27, 2008). Although questions remain about who published the ads, only Agriprocessors fits the description of a Postville-based meatpacking plant.
- Food Safety and Environmental Concerns: Agriprocessors also has a substandard record of failure to comply with food safety and environmental laws. In November 2007, Representatives Bruce Braley (D-IA), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) sent a letter to Chuck Conner, the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stating that “the Food Safety and Inspection Service (PSIS) has issued over 250 Noncompliance Records (NRs), as well as Letters of Warning to Agriprocessors. Those charges document a long history of repeated federal food safety violations against Agriprocessors.” Additionally, in August 2006, Agriprocessors agreed to a $600,000 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA found that Agriprocessors “failed to comply with wastewater pretreatment conditions and limitations, and alone or in conjunction with the discharges of other sources, introduced pollutants into Postville, Iowa’s water treatment plant that caused the City to violate its wastewater permit,” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “AgriProcessors to Pay $600,000 in Environmental Case,” August 31, 2006).
Today the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees and International Law will hold a hearing on the government’s handling of immigration raids and criminalization of immigrant workers. Below is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.
The news that Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) received contradictory information from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about coordination prior to the largest immigration worksite raid in American history raises a series of troubling questions.
Today, Iowa Faith leaders spoke during a telephone press conference on the recent abuse suffered by immigrant workers in the state at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville and in flood recovery efforts in Eastern Iowa.
An array of faith and labor leaders joined voices today at a telephonic press conference to call for a more sensible immigration policy in this country.
On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff. Congressional leaders should demand answers from Secretary Chertoff to the following questions…