Monday, January 8, 2007

New questions raised about ICE raids and union busting.

In the wake of last months Swift&Co raids, serious questions were raised about the motivations behind the crackdowns. Within days, there was speculation that the raids were used as a method to target unions that represent and organize undocumented workers. David Bacon in the American Prospect wrote, "The real motivation for these immigration raids is more cynical. The Swift action follows months of ICE pressuring employers to fire workers whose Social Security numbers don't match the agency's database. These no-match actions have been concentrated in workplaces where immigrants are organizing unions or standing up for their rights."

A recently released statement made more than a month before the Swift raid by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant secretary, Julie Myers, now appears to confirm that early speculation.

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On October 27, 2006 the University of Chicago Legal Forum held its annual symposium. Over two days, 70 law professors, students, and immigration attorneys gathered at Chicago’s Laird Bell Law Quadrangle, to discuss this year's topic; immigration law and policy.

…the lawyers assembled in the mock courtroom were eager to hear what the conference's keynote speaker would have to say about it all. She was ICE's chief administrator, Julie Myers.

"In order to have a better America," Myers pronounced, ICE was busy catching undocumented immigrants before they could commit "criminal and in some cases even terrorist acts." She praised Alabama's introduction of law-enforcement officers into the process of applying for driver's licenses in that state and excoriated "sanctuary cities" like Houston and Chicago. Her prosecutorial mien surprised no one.

Then came something startling. As labor unions increasingly provide representation for undocumented workers, she said, "we need to look at" unions' violations of the boundary between "charitable assistance and the unlawful employment of aliens." Several lawyers were soon on the phone with labor officials trying to figure out what she meant. Is an ICE crackdown on labor organizing drives imminent? Was one already under way? Were unions harboring undocumented immigrants in violation of the law?

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd seemed a bit taken aback when reached by The Nation for clarification. "There is a fine line between organizing individuals, um, which is perfectly legal; however, once you cross that line where you might be involved in knowingly hiring illegal aliens, that's a problem." … "Let's say there's a bunch of new employees, and some of them are illegal and the union organizer is an employee of the same company and is advising them, I don't know, on how to, for example, where they can get better fake documents," he fantasizes. "Or, 'I know your status. Here's a place where you can stay where law enforcement can't check.'"

The Nation

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) placed penalties on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, but specifically exempted unions from any liability in order to allow them to organize and represent workers. Yet, even this exemption has not been enough to protect workers rights according to Michael Wishnie, a clinical professor at Yale Law who also addressed the symposium. Wishnie called for an end to all employer sanctions, on the grounds that they only foster a system that has kept the unions from protecting their members.

The sanctions, Wishnie argued, have achieved the opposite of their intentions: they “grant to employers terrifying power.”

Employers are required to keep employees’ immigration status on file, information that becomes a handy club to use against labor organizers in the event of an ICE raid. Wishnie did a quick survey of such raids: 54 percent occurred at companies in the middle of active labor disputes—employers blowing the whistle on their employees to break unions or dampen unionizing impulses. Usually they don’t need to actually blow the whistle: employers can maintain a “union-free, OSHA–free, and Title VII–free workplace” with the help of a ready file of blackmail material the government requires them to compile.

Indeed, Wishnie noted, the legislation has created a “perverse incentive” to hire illegals, in turn creating a whole category of bottom-feeding businesses to subcontract illegals to employers.

University of Chicago Magazine, Jan-Feb 2007

According to Jennifer Chacón of the ImmigrationProf Blog, who was at the University of Chicago law school event:

Now Julie Myers' remarks suggest that ICE may be thinking about a strategy that would further strengthen the hand of the most unscrupulous employers of undocumented workers at the expense of unions. But union-busting is not a good way to prevent undocumented migration. It is a good way to make it even easier than it already is for corner-cutting employers who hire undocumented workers to circumvent wage and labor laws at the expense of all employees -- citizens and noncitizens alike.

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