Monday, May 12, 2008

Massive Immigration Raid in Postville, IA

[map image from the Des Moines Register]
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have sealed a meatpacking plant in Northeastern Iowa in order to determine who is and who is not legally entitled to work in the facility:
Federal agents descended upon this northeast Iowa community at about 10 a.m. [Central] today to conduct an immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant.

The ICE agents entered the Postville plant to execute a criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, said Tim Counts, a Midwest ICE spokesman.

Agents are also executing a civil search warrant for people illegally in the United States, he said.

Immigration officials told aides to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley that they expect 600 to 700 arrests. About 1,000 to 1,050 people work at the plant, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

Chuck Larson, a truck driver for Agriprocessing, was in the plant when the agents arrived. “There has to be 100 of them,” he said of the agents.

Larson said the agents told workers to stay in place then separated them by asking those with identification to stand to the right and those with other papers, to stand to the left.

“There was plenty of hollering,” Larson said. “You couldn’t go anywhere.”
When asked who was separated, Larson said those standing in the group with other papers were all Hispanic.

The people who are detained as a result of the raid, as documented by the Des Moines Register, will be transported to a facility in Waterloo, Iowa that has been set up as a detention center, capable of handling a large number of people:
Workers and immigration advocates in Iowa began girding for an immigration raid last week after learning that federal authorities had leased Waterloo’s Cattle Congress fairgrounds. Federal officials declined to explain their plans last week, but advocates worried the fairgrounds would be used as a detention center. That’s what happened in December 2006, when federal agents took people apprehended in a raid at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown to the Camp Dodge military base in Johnston.

Postville is not a stranger to controversy:
Postville, on the border of Allamakee and Clayton counties, is a community of more than 2,500 people that includes natives of German and Norwegian heritage and newcomers who include Hasidic Jews from New York, plus immigrants from Mexico, Russian, Ukraine and many other countries.

The Agriprocessors plant, known as the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, is northeast Iowa’s largest employer.

About 200 Hasidic Jews arrived in Postville in 1987, when butcher Aaron Rubashkin of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood reopened a defunct meat-packing plant with his two sons, Sholom and Heshy, just outside the city limits. Business boomed at the plant, reviving the depressed economy while pitting the newcomers against the predominately Lutheran community.

Stephen Bloom is the author of a book that details what he found in Postville in the late 1990s, titled “Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America,” and this is from the transcript of an interview he did with CNN on October 24, 2000:

For years, meat processors had shipped the corn-fed rich Iowa beef to slaughterhouses, sometimes thousands of miles away. It made sense for the slaughterhouse to be located next to the beef, instead of visa versa. So when the Hasidic community moved to Postville, they moved their entire ethos with them from Brooklyn to northeastern Iowa. They created immediately a shul or synagogue. They made two mikvehs, or ceremonial bath houses, as well as a yeshiva, or school for their children. They replicated in northeastern Iowa the community they had established in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. So in my mind, they were not suffering any degree of cultural deprivation. They moved their world, lock, stock, and barrel, one thousand miles westward.

In December, 2006, ICE conducted raids throughout the Midwest, targeting meatpacking plants:

Today [December 12, 2007] marks the one year anniversary of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s (ICE) raids of Swift and Co. meatpacking plants in six cities in Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota and Utah. In all, 1,282 Swift employees were arrested.

In December, 2007, ICE notified a warehouse company in New York called Fresh Direct that its employee records were going to be reviewed, resulting in over 40 people simply quitting or leaving the company, reportedly without even being paid for their work.
Companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants can face fines or criminal charges, but until recently, prosecutions were extremely rare. In some workplaces elsewhere in the country, workers without proper documents were summoned to the main office without warning, and taken away in handcuffs.

Union officials said that many Fresh Direct employees, who earn between $7.50 and $9.75 an hour, were so frightened of being detained and separated from their children that they stayed home on Wednesday. Others said they were told not to come back.

Ms. Pope said that some employees were warned by company officials not to show up for their paychecks. She said the union was scrambling to find clergy members or other volunteers to collect paychecks for workers who feared going back to the warehouse.

One 41-year-old woman from Ecuador, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of deportation, said she was let go with an expression of regret when she told human resources workers at the company that the Social Security number she had been using for nearly four years was false.

“I’m really desperate now because I have no money to send to my kids,” she said, referring to four children in Ecuador. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life.”

Congress is currently considering the "New Employee Verification Act" (NEVA) that is being presented to replace the current ineffective federal government's employee verification process with a new electronic verification system. Under H.R. 5515, employers would use the state systems to confirm the work eligibility of an individual for I-9 purposes, therefore, it should provide more reliablity and less risk to us as employers.

The following is from an E-mail being circulated on behalf of supporters for the new legislation:
In addition, the bill also would create a voluntary biometrics option that employers could choose to use in the verification process. This system would include a standard background check and the collection of a "biometric" characteristic - such as a thumbprint - to secure an employee's identity and prevent the illegal use of a Social Security number, stolen or fraudulently-obtained drivers' license, or altered identification documents. Other key aspects include:

Electronic Attestation - Allows the entire attestation requirements to be done electronically and eliminates the current Form I-9.

New Hires - Applies only to employers' newly hired employees and would not require employers to re-verify all existing employees as is required by other bills.

Post Offer and Acceptance, Pre-Start - Allows employers to check the employee's work eligibility through the electronic system beginning on the date of hire and ending on the third day after the employee has reported to work.

Federal Law Preemption - Provides that federal immigration law preempts any state law with regard to employer fines for immigration-related issues or in requiring employers to verify identity or work authorization of employees.

Employer Responsibility - Requires employers to be responsible only for the hiring decisions of their own employees, not those of their subcontractors.

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