“Why do [immigrants] do this work? To survive”
This week, Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) took to the House floor to uplift the innumerable contributions of hard-working immigrants throughout the Buckeye state and to urge Congress to treat immigrants with respect and dignity. Her thirty-minute speech included multiple references to workers and children affected by the military-style raid on Corso’s Flower and Garden Center, located in her district.
After trying once and being rebuffed by ICE, Kaptur announced she intends to visit the women of the Corso’s raid who are being detained in Calhoun County, MI in the coming days.
As Kaptur notes, “Why do they do this work? To survive, while holding out hope for a better life for them and their loved ones. Without these workers, our tables would be bereft of the food we depend upon. America could not feed itself. Without these workers, companies would have to pay higher wages, and offer health insurance to do the work.”
Her speech sheds light on the Republican-held White House and Congress’ oppressive and misguided tactics and policies that treat easily exploited workers as less than human. Also this week, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that a majority of Ohioans Support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
Below, we excerpt parts of Rep. Kaptur’s captivating speech. View in its entirety online here.
These workers dare to climb skyscrapers and install the steel beams, and pour concrete across our country, one slip away from death. They embrace harsh work circumstances, going into the brutally hot sun in the south and west picking your vegetables and fruit for 12 to 16 hours a day at high season. In our vast tobacco fields, they work from sunup to sundown picking off flowers from tobacco plants in the blistering 110 degree heat, as their fingers and hands numb from the nicotine, and their sweaty sun burned bodies turn ripe for melanoma skin cancer, and they have no health insurance.
They work in hot steam chambers cleaning our laundry in the big cities and in the very, very difficult environments of slaughter houses using electricised cutting equipment and they’re covered in blood, for the meat that we eat.
They trudge through manure in dairy farms, and they harvest mushrooms, sold in every grocery store around this country, in cold damp dark underground caves, walking through horse dung. They catch by hand thousands of chickens every night in the dark hot coops, that generally have 25,000 or more chickens each, where the stench and the dust are life threatening. They clean bathrooms in amusement parks, along state turnpikes, and in airports. And why do they do this work? To survive, while holding out hope for a better life for them and their loved ones. Without these workers, our tables would be bereft of the food we depend upon. America could not feed itself. Without these workers, companies would have to pay higher wages, and offer health insurance to do the work.
…This situation of penniless workers in bondage, is the modern day version of a continuing continental exploitation of labor. It is and old story, repeating itself in a new chapter.
…It certainly looks like the Trump administration seems intent on staging a big show on immigration. But where is its interest on real solutions? Was this [Corso’s] raid really about security? Or is it more about intimidation? Or is it trying to divide Americans along economic and racial lines?…When I asked ICE if I could visit the workers in one of the detention centers this past weekend, I was told arrangements could not be made, even though these workers work in the district that I represent. This is simply unacceptable. ICE, which reports to the superlords in the Trump administration responsible for this, has been over a day late and a dollar short in their answers back to us. Yet people’s lives and their children’s wellbeing are at stake. Stonewalling is simply not an option.
…I want a full effort and report on what the issue is with each of the persons apprehended. I want to know where each is located, as well as what can be done to minimize the trauma for the children being separated from their parents.
So how did America get to a point where people who work hard with their hands for a living are rounded up like cattle, and their children taken from them to places they know not where? Some of these children may be Dreamers, Americans who’ve grown up in the United States whose immigration status needs to be addressed. So, let’s do it.
…Gloria works at Corso’s and was there the day of the raid. Gloria’s co-worker, who was arrested, asked Gloria to drop off her lunch bag at home and check on her children. Gloria’s co-worker, whose name she’d prefer not to give out because of fear of the children would being taken, has 3 children. A little boy, a little girl, and a baby.
Gloria went to that house, and when she knocked, she said she could hear them behind the door shushing each other. Gloria says, ‘I knocked for a while, and just kept saying, ‘Son, open up, I won’t hurt you. I just came to drop off your mom’s lunch.’ The eldest finally opened the door, but wouldn’t let me in. He broke down crying and asking questions that I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t know where any of the parents were. I tried to calm him down and said, ‘everything will be ok’. I went back to take the children food, but nobody answered the door. I don’t know if they’re ok. Those children only have their mother.’
Gloria continued, ‘I have been here in this community for 42 years and I have never seen anything like this. Families are being broken without concern of what would be of the children. Working is not a sin, and all those people just wanted to better themselves. We work hard. Sometimes taking shifts from 7:00 AM until midnight. What the government is doing is wrong. People are suffering. The American children are suffering.’
Another woman writes, at Corso’s, that she escaped the raid, and she wants to remain anonymous, because she fears that she might be hunted down. She said, ‘I never expected anything like this to happen. When I saw them coming I ran. And I ran and ran and ran until I hid under a bed of flowers, and I buried myself under the dirt and cried in silence. All I could think about was my kids, I have three. A lot of us have some children who need us. My skin itched of the mud stuck to my body, drying.’
Is this America? Is this America?
The letter continues, ‘I prayed to God for strength. I hid there for eight hours in fear of being taken, or that maybe someone would come back. I still feel like I’m suffocating there. When I came out I asked someone who also works there for a ride. The entire complex was silent. Lunch boxes were left everywhere. There was a void. As I got home I was scared to get out of the car. I looked around the neighborhood to make sure there were no officers around. Walking through the door and hugging my son was a relief, however when he asks me ‘what’s going to happen now?’ I don’t know what to say. All I know is I have to provide for them. I’m alone. I don’t have a dime to my name. If I had a voice I’d tell the government that we don’t hurt anyone. We are humble people who are just working to better our lives. I’d tell them to put their hands on our hearts and realize they’re hurting people, children are suffering. Please stop.’
…I hope the American people who are listening tonight think about these human beings. They honestly don’t deserve to be caught. Between our government, the Mexican government, the governments of the Southern tip of North America. NAFTA and CAFTA have to be renegotiated, and workers of this continent have to be respected. We have to treat people like human beings, and there must be a legal system that protects them all.
God bless America, and God bless this continent.