Sunday, December 28, 2014

Immigration Enforcement: A Tool To Silence Workers?

Steven Wishnia, Dissent NewsWire
December 11, 2014

Last April, Ramon Mendez, a Mexican-born roofer in Los Angeles, complained to the Department of Labor that the contractor he worked for had stiffed him out of $12,000 he’d earned.

“Within a few days, immigration officers showed up at his house and put in a deportation order,” says Cliff Smith, business manager of Roofers and Waterproofers Local 36 in Los Angeles. But Mendez was on the street nearby and saw them coming. He escaped, and with union, community, and political support, was able to make a deal. He turned himself in to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and as he had no criminal background and the agency has a policy of staying neutral in labor disputes, he was given an “order of supervision” and later a work permit. However, says Smith, “vindictive ICE officials are requiring him to wear an ankle bracelet, making it difficult to hold steady employment to provide for his wife and four children.”

Local 36 has no proof that the accused contractor reported Mendez to ICE, but the timing was definitely suspicious, Smith adds. The union has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for details on his case.

How employers use immigration laws against workers who speak out on the job is a complex, murky world. It’s not as black-and-white as it was under George W. Bush, when massive ICE raids often coincided with union campaigns—such as the 2008 raid at Agriprocessors, a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa that the United Food and Commercial Workers was trying to organize, where 389 people were arrested and 270 jailed for using Social Security numbers that weren’t their own.

The Obama administration doesn’t do that kind of raid. Instead, it has preferred what some call “silent raids” or “desktop raids.” It has quadrupled the number of audits of workplaces’ I-9 “employment eligibility verification” forms, to about 2,000 a year, according to a 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project.

“It’s not guys in black fatigues now,” says Mike Henneberry of UFCW Local 5 in California. “It’s bureaucrats on computers getting people fired.”[...]

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