Iowa and beyond

One of the lead articles that appeared on the front page of this past Saturday's New York Times read "300 illegal immigrants at Iowa plant imprisoned". The…


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One of the lead articles that appeared on the front page of this past
Saturday's New York Times read "300 illegal immigrants at Iowa plant
imprisoned". The very same article appeared in our Sunday Philadelphia
Inquirer, but was buried a bit on page 4 (we Philadelphians were more
concerned with local politics, Atlantic City and the shore in general).
Al Dia, of course, was at the forefront of reporting this news, for Al
Dia's article appeared in the Friday issue, 1 day before NYC and 2 days
before Philly.

is this article such news, a big enough story to make the front page of
one of our nation's largest and most prestigious newspapers? Because it
signals a new, ominous trend in ICE enforcement, even in a community as
small as Waterloo Iowa: criminal sanctions against those who use fake
documents in order to work in this country.

The article reports
that of the 389 workers detained "nearly 300 illegal immigrants were
sentenced last week to five months in prison for working at a
meatpacking plant with false documents". Most of those taken into
custody were Guatemalan. It further notes: the prosecutions…signal a
sharp escalation in the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal
workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges
against most of the immigrants arrested in the May 12 raid. Previously,
unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration
officials for civil violations and rapidly deported".

Of the
389 workers convicted 297 pled guilty and were sentenced in four days,
highly unusual in any criminal proceeding.  The government played
hardball: they threatened that if those arrested refused to plead
guilty to the lesser charge offered in a plea bargain, they would be
tried on felony identity theft charges which carried a mandatory two
year minimum jail sentence. With the proverbial gun to their heads, it
is not surprising that those in custody chose the best of the worst: a
plea to lesser charges but a plea that resulted in immediate
deportation and the final closing of the door to the U.S. to them.

was the target of this raid and what can we learn? The target was a
specialized meatpacking plant that manufactures kosher meat for about
60% of the U.S. population that follows the strict Jewish kosher
dietary rules.  We in Pennsylvania are not strangers to raids in
meatpacking plants. In fact, many may remember the highly organized pre
9/11 raid of Robson's, a meat packing plant located in the Scranton
area, Sometime in 1992 or 1994 (or whereabouts), the then INS did the
unheard of: it flew a plane up to Scranton, parked it outside Robson's
plant, raided the plant and took over 100 workers directly from the
plant to the waiting plane. Relatives screamed and cried outside but
few were saved: almost all were returned to Mexico, with the exception
of a handful from El Salvador and Guatemala who were harder to deport
and had US spouses in the Scranton area. Almost the next day, most of
the workers re-appeared at the plant, carrying documents in names
different than that under which they were deported. The owner of the
company "rehired" them and Immigration attacked in full force, bringing
criminal charges against the company based on its knowing hire of
illegal aliens.

Fast forward to 2008 and in comes ICE, with
a full mandate to deport, and the technology to do it with relative
ease. Okay, so ICE only has 8 agents in Iowa: not a problem because our
Philly agents and others from across the country flew to Iowa to assist
in this carefully orchestrated operation.

Why this plant in
particular? No one is talking but based upon the company's history, the
raid was not surprising. Since 2004 the company has faced "repeated
sanctions for environmental and worker safety violations". In 2006, the
largest Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, published an expose
on this company. As a result, Conservative Jewish leaders also started
asking questions. It's safe to assume that with all this negative
publicity in the media, ICE's interest was piqued. Add to that the fact
that this was a manufacturing plant with a large amount of employees,
in an industry which, like the recently raided Pilgrim's Pride, had a
history of hiring Hispanic workers and the decision to raid was a
classic "no brainer". The operation, however, was the opposite: it was
carefully planned and executed.

So, what are the lessons that we
take from this raid? Lesson one: ICE is targeting certain industries.
Lesson two: employers who are not compliant in one aspect of the law
are also being targeted. Lesson three: the larger the operation, the
larger the publicity and hence the more worthwhile for ICE to plan and
execute a raid. After all, as the ICE Commissioner has repeatedly
stated, ICE is "committed to enforcing the nation's immigration laws in
the workplace to maintain the integrity of the immigration system".

mandate and focus of enforcement will surely be a huge comfort to those
who rely exclusively on kosher meat for their meals. Perhaps now they
will open their mouths wide enough to complain to their local
legislators that immigration reform means not raids but a work visa
program and/or legalization for those in the shadows whose work we rely
upon on a daily basis for the necessities of life—a meal on the table.


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