The departments Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 1,187 workers in what Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the largest single worksite enforcement operation in U.S. history. ICE agents working together with the Justice Department raided IFCO operations in Texas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, and 15 other states. More workers were rounded up on the job in this one action than were arrested during worksite raids in all of 2005.
Criminal charges were also filed against seven current or former lower-level IFCO managers of conspiring to transport and harbor illegal workers, the Financial Times reported. They could face a maximum of 10-year prison sentences and fines. No senior company executives were arrested.
Speaking to the media the day after the raids, Chertoff asserted, Employers and workers alike should be on notice that the status quo has changed.
The workers, predominantly from Mexico and other countries in Latin America, face civil charges for being in the United States without proper documentation. The day after the raids, 275 workers had already been deported to Mexico, with many others being processed for deportation. They called us into a meeting at 9:00 a.m., Guillermo Navarrate, an IFCO pallet maker who came to Houston from El Salvador, told the Militant. There were people there dressed in police-looking uniforms who turned out to be la migra. They arrested us, put us on a bus, and took us to a detention center. They made us wait 12 hours, then released most of us. We are waiting to hear if we will get permission to work.
Commenting on conditions in the plant, he added, We make $5.15 an hour, working 10 to 12 hours a day. The only break we get is for lunch.
An IFCO worker from Nicaragua, who asked that his name not be used, told the Militant that he and many of his co-workers had taken the day off and marched for equal rights for immigrants on April 10. We got time off and had won it for May 1 too, he said. Another march is planned in Houston that day.
While ICE cops were rounding up workers at two Houston factories, many other workers stopped by to see how they could help their relatives, friends, and co-workers. Delmy Miranda, 26, whose husband and brother were arrested, told El Dia reporters that they would be in danger if deported to El Salvador. Its not right that they carry off honest people, she said. I cant believe they did this injustice at the moment when we were fighting for justice and equality. Now we are going to go and participate in marches and take these protests more seriously.
José Eliseo Rivera was there to check on the fate of his son. Soon after he found out that his 22-year-old son had been swept up in the raid, he got a call informing him that his brother, Aristides Rivera, 31, had also been arrested by the ICE in Louisiana. Right now I am very angry, he told El Dia.
They tell us that with rights come obligations, but we have only the obligationsno rights! We need amnesty and green cards to give us the ability to work like everyone else, Yolanda Paredes, a Houston restaurant worker, told the Militant.
Defending the raid, U.S. senator Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, said, Its obviously a political decision, but I welcome it. We need to send a clear message to employers and anyone else who would exploit immigrants.
The raids were carried out as Congress considers legislation to give Homeland Security greater access to Social Security records. A bill before the Senate and one already passed by the House would create a worker-verification system to check a new hires identity and work eligibility against Social Security databases and immigration records. Employers are currently required to ask for documents from workers but not to verify those documents against such records.
While past roundups of undocumented workers have focused on airports and military bases, Chertoff recently declared that nothing is off limits, including the massive immigrant workforce in agriculture.
However, the Wall Street Journal noted, The departments aggressive new stance faces a tough political future…and depends on Congresss willingness to finance a crackdown on some industries that are fueling the economic boom.
Jose Aravena, Anthony Dutrow, and Steve Warshell contributed to this article.
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