More than 100 Latino and immigrant workers who were targeted in a racially motivated immigration raid have won class action status following a decision this week from a Tennessee court.
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said that 104 workers were targeted at a meatpacking plant in Tennessee in April 2018, at that time the largest such raid in years. They said federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) swept up Latino and immigrant workers—including those with work authorization—while ignoring the white workers.
Tennessee Lookout reports the Justice Department had “been fighting for months now to avoid the class-action designation” in order to force workers to have to launch individual litigation. “The ruling means that over 100 Latino class members may now proceed collectively to prosecute this civil rights case against ICE and IRS agents as the case enters the summary judgment phase this fall,” NILC and SPLC said.
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“This raid was conducted in an unnecessarily violent, humiliating and demeaning manner toward Latino workers,” NILC Senior Staff Attorney Michelle Lapointe said in a statement. Tennessee Lookout further reported that it had obtained documents showing that the raid on the plant was initially a tax investigation against the owner, then turned into an anti-immigrant plan under the racist policies of the previous administration.
“But court records show agents and federal prosecutors had been meeting for months prior to the search warrant request to plan a round-up of Latinos working at the plant as part of then-President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to get tough on illegal immigration.” Just over a year later, a devastating series of workplace raids on meatpacking plants in Mississippi would eclipse Tennessee in size.
The organizations representing workers said that leading up to the raid on the Tennessee plant, federal agents had “frequently discussed arresting Hispanic workers and conflated Hispanic ethnicity with illegal status,” and in at least two other instances noted that they would be processing Latino workers before even one single worker had been detained.
“The court also noted that the evidence to date showed that ‘No white workers were arrested on the day of the Raid,’ but that the ‘individuals arrested that day and transported to the Armory were uniformly Hispanic,’ and that agents ‘detained the Latino employees—even those who asserted they had valid work authorizations—and transported them to the Morristown Armory on vans,’” NILC and SPLC continued.
“The federal lawsuit alleges claims of conspiracy to violate workers’ equal protection rights, excessive force, and false arrest.” Tennessee Lookout reports workers “were subjected to humiliation and, in at least two instances, brutality.” Some immigrant workers were deported. In the ruling this week, the court noted that because of income, English-language proficiency, and geographical location, class action status “is likely the only way that individuals injured during the raid could bring these claims,” Tennessee Lookout reported.
“As class counsel, we look forward to defending the constitutional rights of each class member whom the federal agents unlawfully targeted for enforcement during the raid,” said Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The Constitution protects all people from law enforcement overreach, and the class members look forward to vindicating those rights in court. This week’s ruling is a significant step in our fight for justice for our clients and their families.”
In a major policy move last fall, the Biden administration announced it would be ending mass raids that target immigrant workers. “We welcome today’s long-overdue announcement,” said Immigrant Justice Project Senior Supervising Attorney Meredith Stewart. “Worksite raids only serve to terrorize immigrant communities and workers, making them more susceptible to being exploited by employers.” In July, the Labor Department also issued guidance guidance on how immigrant workers who are involved in workplace disputes can seek protection from retaliatory employers.
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