U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claimed this wasnt a raid, just an enforcement action. The 17 workers were flagged during an immigration audit when their names were checked against a Federal Trade Commission database.
Workers and youth across the country have been standing up to increased government attempts to scapegoat immigrants. Some 500 people, including from high schools and at least six universities, marched in downtown Chicago March 10 chanting, Undocumented and unafraid, Education, not deportation, and Legalization now!
On March 13, 400 workers and students rallied in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston, to support the call for the upcoming March 21 mobilizations for immigrant rights.
I think we are part of a historic process and it will take more and more actions to win, said University of Houston student Kody Allen.
During his campaign for president and after his election, Barack Obama promised to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows. While vowing to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers and tighten border security, Obama said he would back immigration reform to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States. This includes requiring immigrants to pay hefty fines, learn English, pass background checks, and go to the back of the line before becoming eligible for legal residency.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has stepped up actions leading to the firing, deportation, and prosecution of workers without papers.
In 2009, ICE deported 387,000 immigrant workers, the highest number in U.S. history. Federal prosecutions for immigration violations also jumped nearly 16 percent.
Over the last year, ICE has tripled the number of immigration audits, which lead to the firing of workers who cant prove they have work documents. If ICE concludes a worker does not have required papers, the company can be fined up to $10,000 per undocumented worker.
These penalties were part of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed when Ronald Reagan was president. The law granted amnesty to some 3 million undocumented workers, but included new anti-immigrant measures.
The Obama administration has also stepped up attempts to criminalize immigrant workers. In December, ICE arrested 286 undocumented workers in California during what it called its largest ever enforcement surge targeting criminal immigrants.
Border agents doubled
In August last year, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano boasted that she had doubled the number of ICE agents on the U.S.-Mexico border in the first six months of 2009 as part of a twin antidrug, anti-immigrant campaign.
In a signal of what the White House means by reform, Obama met with Democratic senator Charles Schumer and Republican senator Lindsey Graham March 11 to discuss what the U.S. president called their promising framework for immigration legislation. The two presented Obama with a three-page outline of their proposed reform. Last year Schumer said that the priority should be to make a dramatic reduction in future illegal immigration.
Graham is pushing to make it even harder for immigrants to cross the border from Mexico to the United States by expanding virtual fencing. Both Schumer and Graham want to mandate a tamper-proof ID card for all workers in the United States.
Another key section of the so-called reform is expansion of programs that allow immigrants to work temporarily in the United States. These guest workers, while technically holding work papers, have little more rights than undocumented workers. If fired or laid off, or if they quit or go on strike, their papers become invalid and they can be expelled from the country.
Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez has introduced a 645-page bill in the House of Representatives that is favored by some leaders of immigrant rights groups and union officials as a way to pressure Obama to modify his position. It also calls for tightening border security along with demeaning background checks and substantial fines before a foreign-born worker can apply for residency in the United States.
Jacquie Henderson in Houston and Laura Anderson in Chicago contributed to this article.
A fight for entire working class
550 farm workers fired after immigration audit
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