Workers terrorized, handcuffed and held without food or water. Mothers separated for days or weeks from children. Guns brandished at innocent workers just doing their job.
Sound like another country? Unfortunately, this scenario has taken place in America--perpetuated by our own government at American workplaces. And finally, people are starting to take notice.
Yesterday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union held a public hearing in Boston to address a March 2007 ICE raid involving hundreds of federal agents in New Bedford, Mass. which resulted in the detention and terrorizing of hundreds of employees who couldn't provide proof of their legal immigration status. Senator John Kerry, among others, was there to testify on the government's failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Senator Kerry was also there to discuss his legislative proposal:
He said that while the ICE does important work, it needs to change the way it conducts raids.
Supposed "interviewees" detained by the ICE, Kerry said in his testimony, were "handcuffed and manacled" as agents sought to determine their immigration status.
Kerry’s bill would require that aliens detained in similar raids be afforded translators; given access to state social services, to determine whether they have medical needs; be considered for release based on age-, medical- or family-related humanitarian grounds; and be released within 72 hours if they are not subject to mandatory detention and do not pose a flight risk.
The UFCW created the National Commission on ICE Misconductto look into claims that ICE has engaged in violations of the 4th Amendment. After thorough investigation, the Commission will produce a public report that highlights its findings and makes recommendations to ensure that workers don't have to leave their constitutional rights behind when they go to work.
The motivation for the union's investigation was ICE's Dec. 12, 2006 raid of six meat packing plants around the country where the union represents workers, where though more than 12,000 meatpacking workers—including citizens, legal residents and immigrants in the process of legalization—were swept up in unprecedented, unwarranted and excessive use of force, only 65 workers were indicted for identity theft.
Numerous human rights violations were noted at these workplace raids:
The legal complaint contends that during the December 12th raids workers were denied access to telephones, bathrooms and legal counsel. Citizens and legal residents also were deprived of the opportunity to retrieve documents to establish their legal status. Some workers were handcuffed. Others were shipped out on buses. Families, schools and daycare centers could not be contacted to make arrangements for the children of detained workers. Families were left divided and scared—not knowing where or when they might see a missing family member again.
"When I tried to report to the cafeteria during the raid, ICE agents accused me of trying to run away. They held me in handcuffs. I'm a U.S. Citizen, born in Iowa. My parents live in Mississippi. My government treated me like a criminal, and I didn’t do anything wrong. I knew our rights were being violated. What they're doing in these raids is illegal," said Mike Graves, who has lived in the United States his entire life, works at the Marshalltown, Iowa, Swift and Company plant, and is a member of UFCW Local 1149.
And even though the same types of abuses occured at the raids in Boston, ICE is trying to tell us that these raids are no big deal:
I’ve heard things that are patently false, exaggerated to create a fear about law enforcement in this country," Pat Reilly, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an interview last week. "It’s quite common for people to greatly exaggerate concerns of humanitarian misconduct."
However, that's not quite what witnesses, workers, and others that testifed have stated. They report all the trauma that you might expect would result would result from such treatment from your own government:
Amaro Laria, director of the Latino Mental Health Training Program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, said that during the New Bedford raids, there were numerous instances of abuse — about which he testified at Monday’s hearing alongside DeStefano.
Laria said that after the raids, he and some of his students started volunteering, offering mental-health evaluations to women who had been detained as well as to their husbands, siblings and children.
"What struck me was how complex the issues were that we were seeing," especially in the children who had experienced separation from parents, he said after the hearing. "We started seeing classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: nightmares, insomnia, acting out behavior, anxiety paranoia."
So that's good. In addition to the thousands of soliders who have or will come back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, we now have hundreds or potentially thousands of workers here suffering from the same problem--at the hands of their own government.
As the UFCW's President, Joe Hansen says, " Work is not a crime. Workers are not criminals. We do not leave our constitutional rights at the plant gate."
It's great that the UFCW is doing something to bring this issue to light, and that politicians like Senator Kerry are working to expose our broken immigration system. But more people have to get involved. We have to tell Congress that this kind of behavior from ICE is NOT American--and that Congress's failure to enact meaningful immigration reform is going to cost a lot of incumbents their jobs this fall unless they do something NOW.