Friday, December 15, 2006

Immigration raids more about union-busting than law enforcement?

The fallout from last Tuesday's Homeland Security raids on Swift & Company meatpacking plants in six states is just beginning. Revelations have already come to light of US citizens being singled out simply because of their ethnicity, people being sorted into groups according to skin tone with non-Latino and lighter skinned workers given blue plastic bracelets denoting legality, and the fact that over twelve hundred workers were taken away to undisclosed locations for processing in spite of the fact that only 5% were charged with having the false documentation ICE claims was the reason for the raids.

Over the next few days and weeks more information will undoubtedly become available. The human cost of these raids and the blatant racial profiling have already begun to be documented.

But there may be even more to the raids than meets the eye.

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A web exclusive from the American Prospect looks at some of the possible underlying factors that led to these raids. Chief among them: union busting.

According to the story "Justice Deported" by David Bacon, the ICE raids and the investigations leading to them concentrated on workplaces that have been the target of union organizers.

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.

At the Cintas laundry chain, over 400 workers were terminated in November alone, as a result of no-match letters. Cintas is the target of the national organizing drive by UNITE HERE, the hotel and garment workers union.

In November also, hundreds walked out of the huge Smithfield pork processing plant in Tarheel, North Carolina, after the company fired 60 workers for Social Security discrepancies. That non-union plant is not just the national organizing target for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Smithfield has also been found guilty repeatedly of firing its employees for union activity, and threatening to use their immigration status against them. When workers at Emeryville, California's Woodfin Suites tried to enforce the city's new living wage law, Measure C, they too were suddenly hit with a no-match check.

It's no accident that workers belong to unions in five of the six Swift meatpacking plants where this week's raids took place.


Since 1999, however, the AFL-CIO has called for the repeal of employer sanctions, along with the legalization of the 12 million people living in the United States without documents. One reason is that sanctions are used to punish workers for speaking out for better wages and conditions. Unions serious about organizing immigrants (and that's a lot of unions nowadays) have seen sanctions used repeatedly to smash their campaigns

Bacon's claim of immigration raids being used as a union-busting technique can be further seen in the Human Rights Watch's report, "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants".

One of the most telling accounts of the relationship between immigration status and workers’ rights came from Nebraska Beef workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch. A workers’ organizing effort was underway at Nebraska Beef in December 2000 when the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) raided the Nebraska Beef plant. The raid was part of its “Operation Vanguard,” the name given to 1999-2000 INS sweeps through Midwest meatpacking facilities to round up and deport undocumented workers.

The raid on Nebraska Beef was undertaken with no effort by the INS to communicate with the UFCW, which had told the INS of its organizing efforts in June 2000. Such failure to consult the union violated INS guidelines requiring agents to make “a reasonable attempt” to determine if a labor dispute (defined to include an organizing campaign) is underway before conducting any raids. The “Operating Instruction” also required the INS to take steps to avoid interference with workers’ freedom of association.

This instruction came about after years of protest by workers and unions that the INS was being used as a union-busting device to break up organizing efforts. “We have operating instructions that very clearly say when a lead comes in, the local INS office needs to search out whether there is a potential to be misused,” said a top INS official.

…The December 2000 INS raid at Nebraska Beef resulted in more than two hundred workers being deported

Bacon also claims there is another reason for the timing of the raids, one that has far more to do with national politics than law enforcement. He points out that this is not the first time immigration authorities have used raids pressure both unions and employers to back specific immigration legislation.

ICE's pressure campaign recalls the history of immigration enforcement during previous periods when anti-immigration bills were debated the U.S. Congress, as they were this year.

Before 1986, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted months of high-profile workplace raids, called Operation Jobs. INS used the raids to produce public support for the employer sanctions provision later written into the 1986 immigration law.

In 1998, the INS mounted a huge enforcement action in Nebraska, also targeting meatpacking workers, called Operation Vanguard. Mark Reed, then INS District Director in Dallas, was open about its purpose -- to get industry and Congress to support new bracero-type contract labor programs. "That's where we're going," he said in an interview at the time. “We depend on foreign labor. If we don't have illegal immigration anymore, we'll have the political support for guest workers."

Today, ICE and the Bush administration also have an immigration program they want Congress to approve. Once again they want new guest-worker schemes, along with increased enforcement of employer sanctions.

This fall, appealing to right-wing Republicans, the administration proposed new regulations to require employers to fire workers listed in a no-match letter, who can't resolve the discrepancy in their Social Security numbers. Employers like Cintas and Smithfield now claim anti-union firings are simply an effort to comply with Bush's new regulation, although it hasn't yet been issued.

At Swift, the administration is sending a message to employers, and especially to unions: Support its program for immigration reform, or face a new wave of raids.


The Administration appears to be using these raids to send a powerful message to those unions that favor comprehensive reform but have not signed on to Bush's guest worker program that they better get behind plan. For unions like the AFL-CIO, LIUNA (Laborers International Union), and particularly the United Food and Commercial Workers UFCW the message is clear. The Administration is not only willing to turn a blind eye when businesses use immigration as a weapon to prevent union organizing, they will use immigration enforcement as a weapon to force the wayward unions to fall in line.


Anonymous said...

Good Morning, Duke

Very interesting post.

There is an also a very interesting article in this mornings DesMoine Register about the arrestees being moved out of state

mariachi mama

Duke Reed said...

Thanks for the link Mama

The human toll in these horrific raids seems to just now be coming to light. With each passing day I think there'll be more and more stories of children left parentless, husbands seperated from their families, mothers seperated from their children.

Hopefuly the word will get out and those who bang the drum for enforcement at all costs will see the actual costs of their inhumane proposals.

Olga said...

The Pinar del Rio Solution

President George Bush and his supporters on the far right anguish needlessly about the millions of undocumented workers in the United States. Why? Because the Pinar del Rio solution is close at hand.

Briefly stated, this policy provides that the hundreds of workers that are regularly swept up in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) merely need to state that they are refugees from Cuba, regardless of their actual country of origin. More specifically, the undocumented workers should state that they worked in the tobacco fields of Pinar del Rio, and that they got to the United States in refugee boat lifts.

As Cuban refugees who have actually landed on U. S. soil, the undocumented workers will be entitled to stay. ICE officials who dispute the Pinar del Rio story will be in the difficult position of proving a negative—that is, they will have to prove that the workers did not come from Cuba, but rather from some other country. But which one? Mexico? Guatemala? El Salvador? Honduras? Canada?

As long as the undocumented workers stick to their story, the worst that can happen is that they will be placed in detention centers. But as the ranks of detainees swell by thousands every week, the detention centers will increasingly resemble concentration camps. Even George Bush, with his limited knowledge of history, knows we don’t want to go down that road.

So relax. The undocumented workers are not actually “lawbreakers,” regardless of what members of the far right say. The workers are here merely to earn money for their families. By the way, it might be a good idea for you to brush up on your Spanish.

El Gringo said...

"Immigration raids more about union-busting than law enforcement?"

I'd say, rather, that union support for amnesty is more based on increasing their membership after years of attrition.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Mexico is the worst country in the world. The rat-people that make up the population are disgusting sub-humans that won't even flush their toilet paper down the toilet. They have absolutely NO respect for the superior American people that feed their diseased-ridden wives and children with the taxes that they pay using their OWN social security numbers. Fortunately, Mexicans are a very stupid breed of sub-humans and their lack of intelligence will be their downfall when the next civil war occurs. One white male is worth a thousand dirty rat-people, and when the first shot is fired, the bean-eating scum will see the wrath of the superior European Americans unfold before their very eyes.

Anonymous said...

Mexicans are notorious for their uncanny ability to lose every war they've ever attempted to fight in. Their incredibly low IQ average is most likely responsible for this, for these cockroaches are a very stupid, weak and feeble breed of people. They are usually very tiny, which is most likely due to their very small way of thinking. A dog has more to offer to society than a dirty beaner. They do a very, very poor job of trying to speak a white man's language (Spanish) and are too stupid to realize that they didn't invent it themselves. They resent the fact that the white man is superior to them in every way and have no shame in living off of his wallet.