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The Bush administration's enforcement-only policy was an unmitigated disaster for workers. Administration officials became masters of misdirection, as ICE agents began conducting terrorizing worksite raids under the guise of meaningful immigration reform.

A new report just released by a National Commission on these raids (disclosure: a group founded by my union, the UFCW, after the raids) details the abuses of the Bush administration during these raids. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in real immigration reform.

On December 12, 2006, the Bush administration conducted massive worksite raids at six Swift and Company meatpacking plants, rounding up, detaining and criminalizing thousands of workers at each plant for doing no more than reporting to work, no more than trying to earn a living.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union that today represents the workers in those plants, established a National Commission on ICE Misconduct soon after. The Commission held five hearings on those and other raids, in cities across the nation. Now it has released a reporttelling the story of the human toll exacted by the Bush administration's enforcement-only policy, in the hope it will trigger a dialogue on immigration reform with our new administration.

It's the story of workers' terrifying ordeal, when ICE agents handcuffed them, denied their right to counsel or to meet with union representation, and didn't even have the decency to let workers use the bathroom or call their families. It's the story of workers held against their will, native born and immigrant citizens alike--all because the Bush administration had identified, out of the 12,000 people working at those Swift plants, 133 who were suspected of identity theft.

It's the story of misplaced priorities on national security. As Senator John Kerry, who spoke at a Commission hearing in Massachusetts, said of a raid there:

On March 6th of 2007, of all the dangers that were lurking in America...of all the threats being assessed by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, apparently, on that day, none were more insidious or challenging to us, or more menacing, than several hundred people, mostly women, in New Bedford who were making backpacks for the U.S. Army.

The consequences were grave; towns were devastated, families were torn apart. Children and parents suffered lasting mental effects. A high school student, Maria, described her mother's arrest at a Swift plant and how she broke the news to her younger siblings:

At night, I had to do the hardest thing in the world, explain to a three-year-old and a five-year-old what was happening and why their mother wasn’t coming home. They looked at me with their eyes filled with tears. I felt the same way, so helpless and alone...Many kids are scared of the boogieman, but [my siblings] are afraid of ICE.

And the consequences for workers' civil liberties were just as horrifying. In the report's introduction, UFCW International President Joe Hansen describes the Bush administration's flagrant disregard for the rule of law as "racial profiling. Due process ignored...the Constitution tossed aside."

The Commission offers this report as a record of an administration utterly abdicating its responsibility to provide a workable immigration policy. But it's also offered as an opening for a new dialogue on immigration with the Obama administration, with a president committed to the idea that our ideals and security need not be mutually exclusive.

And central to that discussion, that dialogue, is the idea that at its core, immigration is about workers. We need a productive immigration discussion about all workers, native born and immigrant, and their rights, protections, and opportunities to achieve the American Dream.

crossposted at MyUFCW Blog.

Originally posted to 4workers on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 10:30 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Immigration is about workers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That's very true. Immigration is also about families, and about identity and refuge and a number of other things, but immigration reform - which is what's at issue here - is centrally about workers and labor markets.

  •  I keep hearing time and again... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that we don't need new immigrations laws, we need to enforce the laws we have.

    While one might object to HOW Bush enforced the laws, the simple matter is the laws still need to be enforced.

    I kind of wish they'd go after the employers a little harder, but I don't see how raids to enforce immigration law is any different than raids to enforce drug laws or AFT laws or child pornography raids.

    In law enforcement you somtimes have the opportunity to catch many perpetrators at once and that's not frowned upon in any other context.  People should absolutely be treated with respect, but it's very disingenuous to claim people are being rounded up for no other reason than because they showed up for work.  Immigration offenders are being rounded up because they are not legal residents of this country.

    The raids can't focus on JUST the people though, they should absolutely go after the companies who don't make a good faith effort to know the immigration status of their employees.

    You are entitled to express your opinion. But you are NOT entitled to agreement.

    by DawnG on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 10:51:12 AM PDT

    •  The thing is, many people were rounded up (0+ / 0-)

      who didn't do anything but show up to work. There were over 12,000 workers at these plants who were rounded up and held against their will, and only 133 people who were even suspected of having broken the law. U.S. citizens were held against their will without due process even though they'd done nothing wrong.

    •  We certainly need new immigration laws so (0+ / 0-)

      anyone that says we just need to enforce the ones we have isn't likely a fan of immigration in the first place.

      There is no difference between todays workers and the generations of Europeans that came before them other than the fact that the Europeans have decided to slam the door shut to keep the brown folks out.

      Rub raw the sores of discontent - Saul Alinsky

      by JayGR on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 11:03:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And Those Wily 'Europeans' (0+ / 0-)

        other than the fact that the Europeans have decided to slam the door shut to keep the brown folks out

        Have done such a good job that people are now talking about how Hispanics will comprise the majority ethnicity in the U.S. in forty years.

        They've also done a bang up job on the LPR front, given that Hispanic have been granted the majority of all LPR's for about the past twenty years.

        Ya' gotta' give it to 'em, those 'Europeans' are smart.

        <div style="font-size:10px;text-align:center;background-color:#ffd;color:#f33">If the terriers and bariffs are torn down, this economy will grow - G. Bush

        by superscalar on Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 12:33:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for superb work, UFCW (0+ / 0-)

    you all have been among the only voices in America asking where have these people gone and why are they being taken.
    I'd love to see some resources go toward tracking the families affected by these raids and what has happened since the raids occurred...have some been reunited? Have some been languishing in exile? How are the kids faring?
    Kudos again on your excellent advocacy work on this issue.

    •  Thanks--it's such important work, we feel (0+ / 0-)

      And to answer your question, I've seen some reports tracking families after a year or so--with some really heartbreaking stories--but not much after that. I'm hoping this report will reignite interest in the devestating aftermath of these raids, and perhaps prod more reporters or others into examining what has happened since in a more detailed way. The report does touch on what some families have experienced since the raids, and particularly on how children have been affected.

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