BY JON HILLSON
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - At factory shift changes, on sidewalk and campus literature tables, in discussions with fellow unionists, and at political meetings, socialist candidates here have made defense of immigrant rights a top priority of their election campaign.
This focus is driven by the impact of a May 22 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) raid on Northern Star Co., a potato processing plant in the heart of the Twin Cities, where 50 predominantly Mexican workers were seized by the INS agents and deported. An additional 20 workers, handcuffed by the INS after a raid in a suburban St. Paul plastics plant, were also deported the same day.
The jolt of the raids, and the looming imposition of the newest provisions of congressional anti-immigrant legislation have motivated immigrant rights advocates to call for public protests. The bipartisan measures passed in the House and Senate are to be resolved by a joint committee of members from both chambers before a final bill is sent for approval by President Clinton.
This was the main discussion at a larger than usual monthly meeting in St. Paul of the Immigration Task Force of the Urban Coalition, on June 10. Representatives from nearly 20 immigrant rights, Latino, religious, and other groups attended the gathering.
A representative of the Asian and Pacific Island Committee described INS efforts to deport seven young Vietnamese for "juvenile delinquency."
"The most important thing about Northern Star," Tom Fiske said at the meeting, urging action in defense of the undocumented "is that most of the workers there repudiate the raid, are in solidarity with those deported, and want to do something to protest this attack on their dignity." Fiske is the Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
The group decided unanimously to call a speak-out in defense of immigrant rights. A June 14 Urban Coalition mailing noted it was altering its routine, organizing a "special meeting" to call the protest. The forum will "educate people about what really happens during a raid," "help immigrants know their rights," and "affirm the democratic and human rights of immigrants," the mailing stated. The upcoming meeting, for which a bilingual leaflet has been produced, will set the date for the speak out.
On June 6 the SWP campaign here issued a statement urging united protest action against the deportations and for equal rights for immigrants.
"Twin Cities unions should take the lead to protest these cruel and outrageous attacks on working people," stated Fiske, a machine operator at Eaton, Inc., and a member of the International Association of Machinists. "All those who defend immigrant rights, civil liberties, and democratic freedoms need to oppose these raids. The lack of visible protest only gives the INS and the bosses a green light to hammer immigrant workers."
Socialist Workers candidates and their supporters have been campaigning weekly at the Teamster organized Northern Star. One Chicano worker told Fiske that the INS insisted on dragging him to a national guard armory holding pen, as he told them he was U.S. born.
Doug Nelson, the SWP candidate for Minnesota State Assembly, shook hands and handed out campaign statements on May 31, amidst a crowd of campaign supporters, as dozens of workers stopped to talk with him, Fiske, and SWP congressional candidate Jenny Benton. Nelson, 22, and a member of the Young Socialists was photographed in action for a major article on the 1996 elections featuring him, and several other candidates, scheduled to appear in the September issue of Modern Maturity. The magazine is published by the American Association of Retired People, with a circulation of 23 million.
Benton, an assembler at Eaton, Inc., and a member of the International Association of Machinists, campaigned at a June 1 immigrants rights meeting of 100 people, mostly Vietnamese and Somali.
"It's not very well known," Nancy Peterson, a lawyer for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, said in an interview at that meeting, "but under provisions of the `Oklahoma City' anti-terrorism bill, legal resident immigrants can be deported for committing a crime with a weapon, involving drugs, or for `moral turpitude,' which a judge could say is stealing food."
Under that new law, she said, legal agencies that receive any federal funds are "forbidden to defend anyone in this country `illegally.' We're now cut off from our clients."
Several immigrant rights advocates said they've been told by the INS there will be more raids in Minnesota this summer. "Last week," one said, "a worker was called by his plant in Northfield, and asked to come in to work his day off, for time and a half. He came in, and there was the INS, waiting for him."
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