Saturday, August 27, 2011

America’s Sweatshop Diplomacy

By Jennifer Gordon, New York Times
August 24, 2011

ACCORDING to the State Department, the J-1 visa Summer Work Study program, which allows foreign students to work in the United States for a few months, is meant to promote “lasting and meaningful relationships” between the students and Americans.

Try telling that to the more than 300 J-1 holders who went on strike at a Hershey’s distribution plant in Pennsylvania last week, with the support of the National Guestworker Alliance. These engineering majors and future lawyers from places like Turkey, Moldova and China came hoping to travel and speak English, but spent the summer packing and lifting heavy pallets of Kit-Kats, often on overnight shifts and for meager pay. [...]

Read the full op-ed:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fighting the Firings

After years of ‘silent raids’ and federal workplace audits, unions and community allies are going on the offensive.

By David Bacon, In These Times
August 23, 2011

When the current wave of mass firings of immigrant workers started three years ago, they were called “silent raids” in the press. The phrase makes firings seem more humane than the workplace raids of the Bush administration. During Bush’s eight-year tenure, posses of black-uniformed immigration agents, waving submachine guns, invaded factories across the country and rounded up workers for deportations.

“Silent raids,” by contrast, have relied on cooperation between employers and immigration officials. The Department of Homeland Security identifies workers it says have no legal immigration status. Employers then fire them. The silence, then, is the absence of the armed men in black. To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, they used to rob workers of their jobs with a gun. Now they do it with a fountain pen. [...]

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Workers Win Large Settlement at Supplier to Chinese Restaurants After Hard Fought Campaign

For Immediate Release:
Focus on the Food Chain
August 18, 2011
Contact: press (at)

Energetic Worker-Led Campaign Saw Key Customers Drop the Distribution Warehouse Until Workers' Rights Were Respected

Queens, NY – Immigrant workers at Pur Pac, a food distribution warehouse supplying many landmark Chinese restaurants, bakeries, and cafes in Chinatown and around the City, have won a major settlement with the company after prevailing in a bitterly contested workplace justice campaign. The comprehensive settlement will return $470,000 in illegally withheld minimum wage and overtime pay and subjects Pur Pac to a binding code of conduct which includes protection for collective activity and compels compliance with all workplace laws including anti-discrimination and health & safety protections. The workers organized with Focus on the Food Chain, a joint campaign from Brandworkers and the IWW which is challenging sweatshop conditions in a sprawling industrial corridor of food processing and distribution warehouses that service New York City markets and restaurants.

"No one who wakes up and goes to work every day should have their wages stolen," said Primo Aguilar, a former worker at Pur Pac and a leading member of the campaign. "I feel proud today that my co-workers and I stood up, got organized, and won. This settlement means a great deal for us and our families but also for our effort with the Focus campaign to win respect for all of New York City's food processing and distribution workers."

Through grassroots advocacy and protest, the workers persuaded key food retail customers of Pur Pac to stop doing business with the company until the dispute was resolved. Pursuant to the settlement, workers' representatives are notifying customers that the dispute has been favorably resolved. Pur Pac's product line includes bulk rice, sugar, cooking oil, chop sticks, and soy sauce. In a previous companion agreement, Pur Pac acknowledged that it was the successor to two predecessor companies, E-Z Supply Corp. and Sunrise Plus Corp., and has recognized the Industrial Workers of the World labor union as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of Pur Pac employees.

"Every New Yorker depends on workers like the ones at Pur Pac for the food we all need to survive and thrive," said Daniel Gross, the executive director of Brandworkers. "But for far too long, the City's food processing and distribution employees have constituted an invisible workforce, out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The conditions in the sector are deplorable and systemic but, as the Pur Pac workers have shown, positive workplace change can and will be won. Today, we're savoring the workers' hard-earned victory and could not be more proud to be associated with this march toward justice."

Pur Pac, through successor companies, engaged in massive wage theft against its Latino and Chinese employees and fired them illegally when they asserted their rights. By engaging in two sham sales and re-branding efforts, the company attempted to evade liability even after losing cases in federal court and the National Labor Relations Board. The victory is the largest yet for Focus on the Food Chain, which prevailed last year in a high-profile workplace justice campaign at a seafood processing facility in Queens.

Ridgewood-based Pur Pac lies along a corridor of food factories starting in East Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn and extending into Ridgewood and Maspeth in Queens. Wage theft, retaliation discrimination, and reckless disregard for worker health and safety are endemic in the sector. Earlier this year, the corridor claimed the life of Juan Baten, a Guatemalan immigrant crushed to death at the tortilla factory where he worked, a death that the Occupational Health & Safety Administration found would have been prevented if not for the employer's disregard for basic safety precautions.

Focus on the Food Chain promotes a sustainable food system that incorporates respect for workers' human rights. Through worker-led organizing, direct action, and litigation, the Focus campaign is challenging and overcoming sweatshop conditions in New York's food processing and distribution warehouses. The campaign is currently engaged in a high-octane initiative for workplace justice at Brooklyn-based Flaum Appetizing Corp., a kosher food company that produces Sonny & Joe's hummus and distributes Tnuva products, the leading global kosher cheese brand.

Brandworkers is a Queens-based non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. Through legal, advocacy, and organizing support for low-wage employees, Brandworkers promotes employer compliance with the law and challenges corporate misconduct in the community.

Founded in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World is a grassroots labor union dedicated to member-led organizing and workplace democracy.

More information at:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

U.S. Forced to Release New “Embarrassing” Documents On Controversial Secure Communities Program

ShareDocuments Show Broad Deception and Disagreement Within Federal Agencies on Opt Out; Raise New Questions About ICE’s Mandatory Stance

Press release, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)

New York, August 18, 2011- In the wake of protests and civil disobedience in Chicago yesterday and across the country criticizing the Obama administration’s Secure Communities program, immigrant advocates called on the government to turn over remaining documents about the program sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit and to halt the controversial program.

A batch of unredacted documents released by court order this week, which federal district court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin called “embarrassing,” included acknowledgement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys that they would have to “rewrite” memos on whether the program is mandatory for states and localities and revealed schisms between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the right of states and localities to opt out of the program. [...]

Read the full press release:

Secure Communities and Next Generation Identification:
The FBI’s “Big Brother” Surveillance Agenda

July 6, 2011 Fact Sheet from CCR, Cardozo School of Law, NDLON

Documents disclosed as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic reveal that Secure Communities goes far beyond immigration
enforcement. The program is part of a larger secretive information-collection project that profoundly undermines democracy and liberty. [...]

Read the full fact sheet:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Support the Sit-In at Hershey's Factory by Student Guestworkers!

Jobs With Justice Action Alert
August 17, 2011

On August 17th, hundreds of student guestworkers from around the world were joined by unemployed American workers and labor leaders in a factory sit-in at the Hershey's Chocolate Company packing plant in Pennsylvania.

The students paid $3,000-$6,000 each to come to the U.S. this summer for what they thought would be a cultural exchange program through the State Department's J-1 visa. Instead, they found themselves packing chocolates at the Hershey's plant in deeply exploitative conditions. After automatic weekly deductions for rent in company housing and other expenses, they net between $40 and $140 per week for 40 hours of work.They talked about their struggle and asked for our support at the JwJ national conference last week. [...]

Read the full action alert:

Foreign Students in Work Visa Program Stage Walkout at Plant
By Julia Preston, New York Times
August 17, 2011

PALMYRA, Pa. — Hundreds of foreign students, waving their fists and shouting defiantly in many languages, walked off their jobs on Wednesday at a plant here that packs Hershey’s chocolates, saying a summer program that was supposed to be a cultural exchange had instead turned them into underpaid labor. [...]

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

White House Slows Deportations as Pressure on "Secure Communities" Mounts

Dream Act students won't be deportation targets, officials say
Los Angeles Times
August 18, 2011

The Obama administration announced Thursday that undocumented students and other low-priority immigration offenders would not be targeted for deportation under enforcement programs.

The announcement marks further steps to stop the deportation of people it considers "low-priority" immigrants like so-called Dream Act-eligible students and those with long-standing family ties in the country. These eligible students are those who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. [...]

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Obama Administration Curtails Deportations of Non-Criminal Immigrants
By Jake Tapper, ABC News
August 18, 2011

The Obama administration today announced it will no longer actively seek to deport illegal immigrants who don’t have criminal records and that it will review all existing deportation cases involving non-criminal immigrants on a case-by-case basis.

The news follows months of intense pressure from immigrant advocates who had urged the president to use his administrative authority to refocus the government's limited law enforcement resources while congressional gridlock over a comprehensive immigration system overhaul persists. [...]

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Friday, August 19, 2011

KBR and the Tale of Two Walls

Todd Miller, NACLA Report on the Americas
August 3, 2011

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the Arizona state government’s latest anti-immigration ploy—to build its own border wall on private land, with money from private donors, using inmate labor. On the official website, unveiled on July 20, Arizona state senator Steven Smith explains that this initiative came about because “the consequences of this lack of security have yielded an unparalleled invasion of drug cartels, violent gangs, an estimated 20 million illegal aliens, and even terrorists.”

Meanwhile, during that same week, the office of Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had awarded former Halliburton subsidiary KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root) a $24.4 million contract for “upkeep” of border infrastructure. The self-proclaimed “largest contractor for the U.S. army” will be providing maintenance for the fences and gates, roads and bridges, and lights and electrical systems, among other things. This isn't the first time that KBR has been involved with immigration enforcement. [...]

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Resistance Widens to Obama Initiative on Criminal Immigrants

By Julia Preston, New York Times
August 13, 2011

BOSTON — Mayor Thomas Menino, who often invokes his heritage as the grandson of an Italian immigrant, was one of the first local leaders in the country to embrace a federal program intended to improve community safety by deporting dangerous immigrant criminals.

But five years after Boston became a testing ground for the fingerprinting program, known as Secure Communities, Mr. Menino is one of the latest local officials to sour on it and seek to withdraw. He found that many immigrants the program deported from Boston, though here illegally, had committed no crimes. The mayor believed it was eroding hard-earned ties between Boston’s police force and its melting-pot mix of ethnic neighborhoods.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gay man born in Australia is facing imminent deportation despite being legally married

Makk has been living in the U.S. on legal visas ever since but was denied a green card July 26 because immigration officials are bound by the federal Defense of Marriage Act - which defines marriage as between a man and a woman only - not state laws.

By Nancy Dillon, Daily News (New York)
August 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES - A gay California man born in Australia but legally married to his American husband is facing imminent deportation after federal authorities denied his request for spousal residency.

The case is garnering international attention because the couple helped pioneer gay marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 - and the Australian husband has become the primary caregiver for his AIDS-afflicted spouse. [...]

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Monday, August 15, 2011

NYC, 8/18/11-8/20/11: "Undocumented," by Katherine Chua

What happens when everything you know is about to be taken away? What can you do when you have to leave the only place you call home? Where do you go when you get tired of hiding, but too scared to run? What do you do when you’re not sure if you’re a victim or a criminal?

These are just some of the barriers that young undocumented immigrants must confront. In the multimedia play Undocumented by Katherine Chua, she highlights the inner turmoil of a girl called Frida, who has been found out by the authorities as being in the country illegally. Although she has been living in the U.S. since the age of 8 and is now 25, she will be taken from all she's ever known and deported "home" to her native country. The only light is the possibility of having the DREAM Act bill get passed by legislation. But before Frida can find solace and trust in this bill being past she must find solace, trust and forgiveness in those around her and most importantly herself.

Performing AUGUST 18th, 19th, 20th, 2011 at Stage Left Studio, 214 30th Street (off 7th Avenue), NYC
For tickets go to:

CAST: Sahar Muradi, Dorcas Evelene Davis, Madelene De Leon, Ryan Johnson, Roberto C. Chavez and Charlotte MacDougall

Directed by David Mitnowsky
Asst. Directed by Lexy Nistico

Designers: Nick van der Grinten, Jonathan Spencer, Melanie Patterson

"plant a seed of knowledge . . . incite the growth of a revolution."

Please visit here for info on"Undocumented"
twitter us @undocAplay

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Arizona Border Fence Causes Flood and Self-Destructs—as Predicted

By Bryan Gerhart, ColorLines
August 12, 2011

Mother Earth has spoken. Amidst recent reports that detail just how harmful the United States border barrier is to local wildlife and their habitats, rainwater knocked down 40 feet of the fence in Arizona last Sunday night.

The stretch of fence that washed away was part of a 5.2 mile mesh barrier that was built between 2007 and 2008. Though it is the first time this particular fencing has fallen, it came as no surprise to officials at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where the fence is located. When Organ Pipe expressed their concern with the proposed design for the barricade before its completion, Border Patrol unsurprisingly issued a final environmental assessment that said they found that it would have no significant impact. They added that, despite the claims of Organ Pipe officials, it would not cause flooding. They were wrong. [...]

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pitting Worker Against Worker

Once we admit there is a problem, must we back draconian, Arizona-like measures against illegal immigrants? On the contrary. If illegal immigrants did not need to fear discovery, the small grocers would not be able to pay them illegally low wages.

By Moshe Adler,Truthdig
April 30, 2010

All that is wrong with our immigration and labor policies—for the two cannot be separated—is on full display in New York City, where it plays out every day in the city’s small grocery stores. Virtually all of the workers in these stores are undocumented Latin American immigrants. Yet in the adjacent supermarkets, the same jobs are held by American-born workers of all colors. The usual excuse that these are jobs that “Americans won’t do” obviously doesn’t apply. What is the explanation then?

In 2002, then-New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer discovered the answer: The small grocery stores pay their workers about half the minimum wage. [...]

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Mexican Migration Patterns Signal a New Immigratio​n Reality

Press release from Immigration Policy Center
August 1, 2011

For Immediate Release

Mexican Migration Patterns Signal a New Immigration Reality: Fewer Coming, Fewer Leaving, and 3/5 of Unauthorized Have Been Here for a Decade or Longer

August 1, 2011, Washington D.C. - Today, the Immigration Policy Center releases a summary of recent data on Mexican migration to and from the United States. This data provides an important reminder that as migration patterns change over time, so too must U.S. immigration policies. Fewer Mexicans are migrating to the United States, fewer Mexican immigrants in the United States are returning home, and immigrants from Mexico are parents to a new generation of Mexican Americans who are U.S. citizens.

New reports from the Pew Hispanic Center and the RAND Corporation provide useful information about the state of immigration today. Although this data deals with Mexican immigrants as a whole and not just the unauthorized, it is a useful indicator of what is taking place in the unauthorized population. More than half (55 percent) of Mexican immigrants in the United States are unauthorized, and roughly three-fifths (59 percent) of all unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico.The data reveals an emerging new reality: fewer immigrants are coming, fewer are leaving, and a majority of the unauthorized population has been here for a decade or longer. These trends suggest that our immigration policies must transition away from the current efforts to drive out unauthorized immigrants with deep roots in this country. We need a more nuanced set of policies that help immigrants who are already living here and contributing to the U.S. economy to more fully integrate into U.S. society.

To view the fact sheet in its entirety, see:
Mexican Migration Patterns Signal a New Immigration Reality (IPC Fact Check, August 1, 2011)

### For more information contact Wendy Sefsaf at  or 202-507-7524

Thursday, August 4, 2011