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Congressional Leaders Call for Agriprocessors Answers

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Immigration Raids Must Not Prevent Enforcement of Labor Laws

Washington, DC – Leading Members of Congress are demanding that the Administration answer key questions about the largest worksite immigration raid in U.S. history. Letters to the U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies from Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Bruce Braley (D-IA), Phil Hare (D-IL), George Miller (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) seek answers from the Bush Administration about its handling of the May 12th immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant in Postville, IA. During the raid, more than 300 immigrant workers were rounded up, charged with crimes, and processed for deportation. Despite serious evidence that the company itself violated multiple labor, immigration, and criminal laws, no Agriprocessors managers or owners have been charged with an offense.

Congressional leaders are concerned that the fast-track deportation of immigrant witnesses will make it impossible for the government to bring appropriate charges against this unscrupulous employer. They are also concerned that an ongoing child labor investigation was disrupted by the immigration raid, and that the Administration has prioritized immigration enforcement against the worker over labor law enforcement against abusive employers.

Senator Harkin’s letter to Secretary Elaine Chao of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Secretary Michael Chertoff of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called for both agencies to investigate “all possible illegal activities committed by Agriprocessors.” Representative Bruce Braley sent a letter to Secretary Chao, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, Matt Dummermuth, asking “whether ICE communicated with DOL prior to the enforcement action,” and inquiring as to the status of investigations into federal labor law violations at the Postville plant. In a guest column in the Des Moines Register, Rep. Braley also highlighted the way the Bush Administration has selectively enforced immigration laws: “[A]s each day passes without even a hint of a probe into Agriprocessors’ actions, Iowans grow more anxious that an employer who apparently has violated laws concerning workplace safety, child labor, food safety, the environment and immigration is going to get away without even a slap on the wrist.”

Representative George Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Representative Lynn Woolsey, Chairman of its Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, also sent a letter to Secretary Chao expressing concern about “the impact this raid will have on labor law enforcement and whether the Department’s investigation into child labor violations will be disrupted or compromised in any way because of this raid.” A letter to Secretary Chao from Representatives Phil Hare (D-IL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) cited the raid’s potential “chilling effect on existing workers who could raise concerns about violations and uncover other unlawful acts in their plants.” Their letter also stated that “DOL investigations must take precedence to ICE’s processing of the workers detained from the Agriprocessors raid.” And at a June 4 hearing on ICE’s incompetence in running its immigration jails, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) told ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers that he thought they needed a Congressional hearing on the Administration’s treatment of Agriprocessors.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Troubling questions remain about the government’s strategy in carrying out the Agriprocessors raid. It’s heartening to see these Congressional leaders demanding answers and accountability. Congress must hold hearings to examine the Administration’s handling of the Agriprocessors raid, and its dismal record on holding unscrupulous employers accountable for exploiting workers.”