Café Express had established a sponsorship program with immigration authorities in which the restaurant and the Boyar & Miller law firm would file citizenship applications for the employees. In return, the company would deduct $25 from the workers' weekly paychecks to cover legal expenses.
In July, Café Express sent a letter to lead plaintiff Jamie Chávez, who worked at a Dallas-area location, and other workers saying their applications could not be successfully completed. The workers were also told that unless they could prove they had submitted applications on their own by April 30, 2001, they would be fired on September 15, according to court documents.
The workers are seeking damages for the money deducted from their paychecks, as well as lifetime wages and legal fees. The lawsuit also calls for special damages because the workers cannot qualify for U.S. residency now, preventing them from becoming U.S. citizens.
In a related development, Houston authorities, taking advantage of the recent shooting death of a city cop, have taken steps to increase cooperation between the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
City officials said the September 21 death of police officer Rodney Johnson, who was allegedly shot by undocumented immigrant Juan Leonardo Quintero, expedited the new policy, but the change was coming. "That did provide an additional impetus to bring this to conclusion, but it was in the works anyway," Mayor William White said at an October 1 news conference announcing the new policy.
Houston cops will now hold people arrested for traffic violations or other minor crimes if warrant checks show they are wanted by federal agents for defying an order to leave the country or for returning after being previously deported. The cops will also allow immigration agents unfettered access to the city's two jails, as they have had in Harris County, and officers will start asking all arrestees whether they are citizens. Fingerprints of anyone booked without proper identification will be checked against a national fingerprint database.
A host of officials from the police department and city council, and some advocates for immigrants' rights, backed White and police chief Harold Hurtt as they unveiled the procedures, which took effect immediately. The previous policy stated that police were not to ask people stopped for traffic violations and other minor incidents about their immigration status. Under existing U.S. laws, being in the country without proper documents is a civil offense.
Condemning the city and the cops, Anthony Dutrow, Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Congress in the state's 18th District, spoke out October 6 against the moves. "The HPD has a long history of victimization, brutality, and murder against workersespecially Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants. This includes today's killing by Taser of 31-year-old Herman Carroll," he said. "These new policies are attacks by Democratic and Republican officeholders that have emboldened rightists like the Minutemen. Such efforts are demagogically couched as targeting 'illegals' and 'lawbreakers.' But their real aim is to intimidate and push back not only immigrant labor but all workers."
"The purpose of these new cop procedures, the ICE raids, deportations, and the restrictions on the rights of immigrants," continued Dutrow, "is not to expel most undocumented immigrants but to maintain a layer of workers more vulnerable to exploitation. That's why working people should back efforts to unionize all workers, U.S.- and foreign-born, and champion the demand voiced loudly by millions: Unconditional legalization of all immigrants now!"
Iowa teenager fights govt attempts to deport her
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