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After Largest Workplace Raid in a Decade, Immigrant Workers Are Organizing

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Image result for Rose BookbinderOn August 7 the poultry towns of central Mississippi suffered the largest workplace raid in the U.S. since 2006. Some 680 chicken-processing workers from seven factories were detained and incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ten percent of the population in Morton, Mississippi, was either incarcerated or fired. Parents were detained the same day they had dropped their children off to their first day of school.

The raid instilled fear not only in Mississippi poultry plants but also among immigrants all over the country. Natalie Patrick-Knox of Jobs with Justice (JwJ) described the ripple effect: “workers feeling scared to report wage theft, dangerous work conditions, and other abuses.”

She said that fear “makes it easier for low-road employers to beat their competition by violating labor law.” Then all workers, regardless of immigration status, feel the effects.

Immigrant advocates say ICE targeted these plants because workers were organizing for better conditions. Many were already represented by the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

BILINGUAL VOLUNTEERS

As soon as the raids were announced, labor and immigrant rights groups mobilized. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, a national coalition representing 340,000 workers, raised thousands of dollars that it sent to the UFCW.

National Jobs with Justice took direction from the UFCW and two local immigrant rights organizations, Southeast Immigrant Rights Network (SEIRN) and Mississippi Resiste. JwJ recruited bilingual organizers and sent them to help these groups.

At the Pioneer Valley Workers Center in western Massachusetts and Massachusetts JwJ, we sent Cecilia Prado, one of our volunteer hotline responders, to join the team on the ground in Mississippi. There she volunteered as an organizer and case manager. “Most of us [volunteers] were Latinx and were familiar with the stress surrounding the immigration system,” she said, “so we were able to relate to the community and gain their trust.”

The organizers worked from early morning to late at night. “We would flyer in churches and communities and let people know about the resources,” Prado said. Churches housed legal clinics and distributed humanitarian aid.

In three weeks, the team working with Mississippi Resiste interviewed 468 family members to locate and identify those detained. Many who were not already in immigration proceedings or had no prior criminal charges were released. The 200 still detained are being moved among nine different prisons.

WORKERS PUSH BACK

“There was a lot of shame,” Prado said. “We talked about how this was not fair. We worked building confidence among the community, validating their experience, educating them on what their rights are, and empowering them to lead their own movements.

“Most people who were from the factories not represented by the union thought that because they are undocumented, they had no rights,” she said.

Besides the hundreds detained, hundreds more were fired. Those still working are afraid they might be next.

To push back, poultry workers have begun organizing committees in their towns—creating roles for each person, such as meeting planner, notetaker, treasurer, communicator, and fundraiser. In Morton, the local leaders organized a huge meeting about immigrant workers’ rights. More than 200 people participated.

Community members directly or indirectly affected by the raids have started to keep track of the labor violations they have experienced at these plants or elsewhere, such as wage theft or sexual harassment, and to seek out labor lawyers. UFCW is also collecting reports of labor violations against its members, offering them humanitarian aid, and putting together a legal team.

RETALIATION?

Just last year, one of the raided factories, Koch Foods, settled a class action lawsuit, paying out $3.75 million to workers over wage theft, discrimination against Latinos, and sexual harassment.

Supporters say it’s more evidence that ICE targets workplaces where workers organize to improve conditions. Poultry is one of the most dangerous industries in the country.

The overall food industry—including farmworkers, fast food workers, restaurant workers, supermarket workers, and meatpackers as well as poultry workers—is the largest sector in the U.S. economy. Yet the median wage for food workers is just $10 an hour. Wage theft is rampant.

The Food Chain Workers Alliance has used government data to show that about one in five food workers is an immigrant, though this number is probably an undercount.

Many of the families working in these plants were recruited from Mexico and Central America by employers. Hiring immigrant Latinos was a mechanism to halt the organizing by Black workers who won improvements in central Mississippi poultry plants between the 1970s and the 1990s.

But the immigrants hit by this summer’s raid received solidarity from Black organizations in Mississippi. The People’s Advocacy Institute, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, NAACP, and others stated: “The anti-immigrant, anti-Latinx, anti-Black, anti-human rights policies created by this administration shock the conscience of all reasonable people.”

BE PREPARED

The return of the workplace raid represents what many immigrant and worker rights organizations have feared would become the new face of enforcement in the Trump presidency.

Under President Obama there were more deportations than under any previous president, but enforcement relied more on I-9 audits and raids at homes.

We can only expect that these raids will keep coming. The more prepared we are with rapid response, the more potential there is to organize and create a united front to fight back.

Solidarity is key in these moments, and it’s best to build it ahead of time. JwJ and the AFL-CIO have published toolkits explaining how to set up a fund and roles in advance, so that folks can jump in immediately to help.

Know-your-rights workshops are also critical. It appears that in these raids ICE used a common tactic: agents walk into a workplace and yell, “Everyone with papers over here, and everyone without over there.”

Muscle memory is key in a crisis. Role-plays can help us prepare not to out ourselves or our co-workers.

Have every worker practice saying that they refuse to answer any questions: “I will not speak to anyone, answer any questions about my immigration status, respond to any accusations, waive my legal rights, or consent to a search of my person, papers, or property until I have first obtained the advice of an attorney.”

This story first appeared at Labor Notes.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rose Bookbinder is a co-director at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, organizer with Jobs with Justice, and board chair of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

Below the Surface of ICE: The Corporations Profiting From Immigrant Detention

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

ABOUT 60 MEMBERS of ICE Out of LA faced off with a handful of Trump supporters outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters July 23. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) abolitionist group was there to confront County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, accused of transferring immigrants into federal custody. The Trump fans were there to troll.

“We tell McDonnell to stop siding with people who promote hate in our community,” one young Latino protester shouted through a bullhorn. “He can abolish ICE here.” It was everything you’d expect from a political demonstration focused squarely, if optimistically, on changing the mind of a single policymaker.

Two days later, 2,400 miles away, activists with Make the Road New York and other groups tried a different approach. They blocked Park Avenue underneath the Upper East Side roof-level penthouse of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, rather than outside a government building. Their speakers blared the now-infamous cries of detained migrant children for their parents.

JPMorgan Chase holds no direct contract with ICE and doesn’t handle financial services at ICE facilities, but it does enable and profit from the private-prison duopoly of Geo Group and CoreCivic, which operate most U.S. migrant detention centers. Since Donald Trump took office, JPMorgan has increased its stockholdings in Geo Group and CoreCivic 15,600 percent. The bank has also provided at least $167.5 million in debt financing to the two companies, which rely on borrowed money.

Going after ICE contractors’ cash flow indicates a new direction in activist organizing since the Trump administration began its controversial family separation policy. ICE relies on private contractors to carry out its detention operations, so one way to abolish ICE might be to make its association so toxic that it loses its collaborators.

Practically every entity that squeezes a dollar from the agency or helps it round up immigrants is being exposed, targeted and swarmed by protesters.

Traditional immigration activists are now being joined by anti-war, feminist and climate action groups, and others. The broad coordination is possible because the U.S. immigration system bleeds into so many areas of progressive ire, from police brutality and labor abuse to the ongoing wave of privatization and financialization. “We really prioritize building intersectional coalitions,” says Daniel Carrillo, executive director of ENLACE, a racial and economic justice group.

That intersectionality has become critical to left movements, with the shock of Trump’s immigration policies revealing the amoral spectacle of late capitalism. We’ve seen anti-corporate campaigns before in America, but few on this scale, bringing together so many disparate groups— even corporate employees—demanding that companies cease profiting from human misery. The backlash against ICE just might provide a model for a politics and economics that values dignity over the balance sheet.

SEVERAL AGENCIES PLAY A ROLE IN FAMILY SEPARATION.Customs and Border Protection handles undocumented border crossings. The Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters unaccompanied minors. But ICE, as the interior deportation force and the largest migrant jailer, has become the avatar for the system’s cruelties.

ICE was established during the golden age of Bush-era privatization in 2003. Though ICE tracks, captures and transports immigrants and imprisons an average daily population of over 41,000 (with plans to increase that to 52,000 in 2019), the part of the agency carrying out that work, Enforcement and Removal Operations, only has 6,000 employees. The vast majority of the immigration machine is left to private-sector contractors.

According to data from the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project, 72 percent of all migrants under ICE’s control sleep in privatized detention beds, mostly managed by private prison behemoths Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). In 2017, Geo Group and CoreCivic together earned $985 million from ICE contracts, more than a third of what ICE spends each year on custody operations. The corporations get paid whether the beds are full or not, arguably providing government an incentive to seek out prisoners so as not to “waste money.”

Geo Group and CoreCivic each run massive family detention centers in south Texas, nicknamed “baby jails” even before the current crisis. They also manage ICEdedicated facilities for adults and many of the federal prisons and local jails ICE sublets to lock up migrants. This practice is likely to expand: ICE posted a request in June for up to 15,000 more family beds at a cost of $1.7 billion annually. And if ICE pivots to electronic monitoring, Geo Group holds that contract, too.

Private prison companies don’t just operate facilities; they build them. As legal entities, both private prison companies claim status as real estate investment trusts. This tax shelter saved Geo Group $43.6 million in 2017 alone, and it boosts revenue as well. Owning and operating detention centers, according to CoreCivic estimates, earns six times more profit per prisoner than just managing operations. Immigrant detention accounted for about a quarter of each company’s revenue in 2017.

After the Justice Department announced the zero tolerance policy in April, thousands of children separated from their parents became “unaccompanied minors” under the control of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which also contracts out its custody operations. Shuttered Walmarts, hotels, temporary tents and even empty office buildings in Phoenix (where children bathe in sinks) have been converted into migrant child jails. Over a dozen private contractors manage facilities, from nonprofit Southwest Key, which has earned at least $955 million on contracts since 2015, to defense contractor MVM Inc. And when children rotate into foster care, for-profit companies like Cayuga Centers take them on. Sheltering unaccompanied minors is now a $1 billion business, with more contracts on the way.

Migrants must be fed and cared for while detained; none of that work is handled by ICE staff. Instead, kitchen, phone, medical, translation and financial services are contracted mostly to specialists that perform the same tasks in private prisons. ICE even contracts out its inspections; a recent inspector general report found that one private inspector, the Nakamoto Group, had waved through substandard facilities.

Other contractors transport migrants between facilities or deport them to home countries. When commercial airlines balked at transporting minorsripped from their families, defense contractors stepped in, including General Dynamics and MVM, which has earned $123 million since 2014 for transportation services. CSI Aviation has a contract to run “ICE Air” for charter deportation flights.

Far from shelters and shuttles, contractors supply logistical support for immigration agencies. Consulting firm Deloitte earned $18 million in 2017 for case management. Salesforce has a software contract with Customs and Border Protection. Microsoft handles ICE’s data processing. An obscure surveillance firm called Pen-Link provides ICE with “real-time tracking” through cell phone and geolocation data. Another logistics infrastructure contract with Palantir, a Silicon Valley data-mining firm owned by libertarian Trump supporter Peter Thiel, uses Amazon’s cloud computing storage.

ICE spent $1.7 billion on close to 5,000 contractors in 2017, the most money this decade. “The immigration system is used as a vehicle to extract wealth from communities, or at the very least as a vehicle to launder taxpayer money into the private sector,” says Bianca Tylek, director of the Corrections Accountability Project.

The motivation to maximize revenue by cutting corners contributes to a nightmarish experience for detainees. Under private contractors, allegations of inedible foodverbal and physical abuseinadequate medical attentionchildren covered in lice, and forced ingestion of psychotropic drugs are commonplace. Many migrants work in the facilities for just $1 a day under virtual slave conditions. Members of Congress have complained that detention phone operators charge parents separated from children up to $8 a minute to speak to them.

More than 1,200 allegations of sexual assault at both public and privately run adult detention facilities were filed between 2010 and 2017, and police reports indicate hundreds more incidents victimizing children. One HIV-positive worker at Southwest Key was charged in August with molesting at least eight minors; other Southwest Key cases involve children as young as 6. “If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said one psychiatrist. Unconfirmed reports of suicides and deaths in custody cap off the grim scene.

These abuses have become a fact of life in private immigration detention, with billions of dollars paid in legal settlements over the allegations. But as national attention focused on the border, Americans couldn’t escape the shocking reality. “We are seeing the unveiling of how immigration enforcement treats humans like animals,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

Immigration agencies have no problem with private contractors absorbing the blame when abuse complaints arise. Outsourcing also shields facilities from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. While the Supreme Court confirmed in 2017 that the government must release details of its private prison contracts, the subcontractors that provide private prison companies with things like food and medical services don’t have to comply with FOIA requests. “Private prison companies are almost like a general contractor in a construction deal,” says Tylek. “They subcontract out the services, and those subcontracts can’t be FOIA’d because there’s no contract with the government.”

But because of the relentless privatization of the immigration system, activists have new pressure points: contractors who must answer to investors, financiers, workers and, in some cases, millions of consumers.

“If we actually do want to change policy, we need to know who has the power,” says Jeremy Mohler, communication specialist for In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization research group and one of many organizations that have pieced together the network of ICE enablers. “And a lot of the power is invested in these corporations.”

IN JUNE, PROGRESSIVE GROUPS FORMED the Families Belong Together coalition to express revulsion at the spectacle of children being ripped from their families. Following the model of the Women’s March and the March for Our Lives against gun violence, Families Belong Together planned mass demonstrations. The breadth of the coalition was exceptional, bringing together environmentalists at 350.org and Clean Water Action, progressive Jews at J Street and Bend the Arc, National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Center for Reproductive Rights, End Rape on Campus, the American Federation of Teachers, Rock the Vote, and hundreds more.

It didn’t take much for groups to justify their involvement. “Two-thirds of the people impacted by immigration policy are women and children; this is very much a woman’s issue,” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, one of the coalition leaders. MomsRising was involved in immigration advocacy before the family separation policy sparked mass outrage, but the issue took on new resonance afterward. “None of us want to explain to future great-grandchildren what we did when history went in the wrong direction.”

The June 30 marches, with hundreds of thousands participating in nearly 750 cities across the country, revealed the movement’s popularity. One of the coalition’s first requests after the marches was to cut off funding to the private prison duopoly, not only by severing their ICE contracts but by going after their lenders. “If the banks stop financing [private prison companies], it creates a huge political and logistical challenge for the administration,” says Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente, a leading Families Belong Together partner.

In the Public Interest researched in 2016 how six banks— Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo—provide revolving credit, term loans and corporate bond underwriting to CoreCivic and Geo Group. The banks fund the construction of new detention centers, acquisitions of smaller companies and general cashflow. According to an April report published by the Center for Popular Democracy, between 90 and 95 percent of CoreCivic and Geo Group’s cash on hand was borrowed in 2017. Interest payments on that debt equaled $217.5 million. As of March 2018, the two companies carried $3.1 billion in debt. These six banks, in addition to profiting from the private prison duopoly, are vital to its existence. And banks have to face consumers, making them an inviting target for activists.

Families Belong Together singled out JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, whose image has already been battered by a cascading series of scandals, for a petition drive. Numerous organizations joined in, collecting over 100,000 signatures from customers and concerned citizens. “Jamie Dimon put out a statement that his heart goes out to the families,” says Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “It is not possible to say you’re standing for an inclusive society while facilitating the growth of an industry caging humans.”

The goal of the protest at Dimon’s apartment was to embarrass him in his Upper East Side neighborhood. Protesters included undocumented immigrants and former detainees at CoreCivic facilities. “We wanted to send Dimon a clear message and have the people that live around him know what’s going on,” says Make the Road New York spokesperson Yatziri Tovar. It came one day after another demonstration in front of the New Jersey home of a Wells Fargo board member. Direct contractors have also faced protests in at least 16 cities. In July, two dozen activists chained themselves in the Centerville, Utah, office of Management & Training Corporation, which runs a handful of ICE jails. The Dream Defenders conducted a national day of action at Geo Group facilities August 7, which shook the company so much it issued a cease and desist accusing the group of “inciting a dangerous ‘disruption.’”

Win Without War, an anti-war group, demanded that military contractors General Dynamics and MVM drop their contracts. Demand Progress, which normally organizes around net neutrality and NSA spying, called on Salesforce to stop working with Customs and Border Protection. “We got involved because we saw the nexus between big, unaccountable tech companies and government oppression, especially surveillance,” says Robert Cruickshank, campaign director of Demand Progress. “These tech companies are making it easier for law enforcement to target and harass people, especially people of color and immigrants.”

The tech industry is now facing an awkward predicament: fending off worker-led organizing. The immigration-focused uprising grew organically from left-leaning Silicon Valley engineers and coders’ stance against collaboration with the Trump administration. They scored a major victory at Google in June when the company cancelled artificial intelligence work for the Defense Department. “Workers were learning how to wield power within their companies,” says Yana Calou, an organizer with Coworker.org, which has been assisting tech employees in these fights.

Weeks after the Google victory, workers circulated open letters at AmazonMicrosoft and Salesforce, asking CEOs to cancel their immigration contracts. Chief executives lamented the plight of migrants and insisted that none of their work involved separating families, which placated nobody. “Tech infrastructure is absolutely integral to all of [ICE’s] operations,” says Calou. “If they were really concerned about reuniting families, they would be building tech for the families.”

To blunt criticism, Salesforce tried to donate $250,000 to RAICES, an immigrant justice group raising money to post bonds for detainees. RAICES rejected the money, responding that “when it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies … the only right action is to stop.” Several business users of Salesforce’s software threatened to end their relationship with the firm if the immigration contract remained.

Outside groups amplified worker voices with petitions and rallies. More than 300,000 people signed a letter from the racial justice group Color of Change supporting employee demands at Microsoft and encouraging other tech workers to join.

The organizing has bled over into anti-discrimination rights on the job, more diversity in hiring policies, and an ethical framework for profiting from the tools they create. Organizations like the Tech Workers Coalition and Silicon Valley Rising promote this cross-pollination and pitch in on bargaining work with janitors and cafeteria workers on tech campuses. Calou views it as part of the same awakening.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this happen in tech companies: a group thinking of themselves as workers,” Calou notes. “The more they’re organized as workers, the better they can advocate for themselves and show solidarity.”

MOVIMIENTO COSECHA (THE HARVEST MOVEMENT),an immigrant justice organization, defines complicity with ICE as being involved in or facilitating deportations. The group targets even more casual connections, like when Customs and Border Protection agents boarded Greyhound busesasking for identification from Latinx passengers or when Motel 6 allegedly gave ICE information on Latinx guests.

“The more institutions stop working with ICE, the more people are forced to ask themselves, which side am I on?” says Arielle Clynes, an organizer with Cosecha.

Cosecha’s No Business with ICE campaign kicked off in early July at an Amazon bookstore in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. “We wanted to make a statement that if Amazon does business with ICE, we’re not going to let them do business at all,” Clynes says. Cosecha activists blocked the entrance with a rally and shut down the store for the day.

The pressure escalated during a July 31 day of action in 10 cities. In Boston, hundreds marched at Northeastern University, which holds a $7.8 milliontechnological research contract with ICE; twelve were arrested after lying down in the street in front of university President Joseph Aoun’s home. In Philadelphia, eight protesters were arrested after occupying the lobby of the Comcast Center for 90 minutes; Comcast provides internet access to ICE. In New York, Cosecha partnered with Science for the People on a march from Microsoft and Salesforce headquarters to an Amazon Books on 34th Street. In Palo Alto, the group targeted Palantir headquarters.

Other Cosecha protests focused on municipal officials. Local coordination with ICE has spiked in the Trump era, with DMVs, hospitals and even public schools sharing personal data on immigrant families. In liberal cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia, activists are demanding that public officials live up to their values, but even redder towns like Grand Rapids, Mich., and Williamson County, Texas, have seen protests.

The next wave of the campaign will target investors in the lucrative immigrant detention industry. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a report August 10 identifying 26 hedge funds holding over $4 billion in stock in Geo Group, CoreCivic and General Dynamics. The report urges public pensions serving AFT’s teachers, which carry over $3 trillion in assets under management, to dump those hedge funds from their portfolios. AFT President Randi Weingarten condemned the hedge funds for “abetting the administration’s policies of family separation and the permanent harm it has caused children.”

Beneficiaries of immigration-related investments include the burgeoning class of multi-millionaire politicians. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has money in a private equity fund that owns Correct Care Solutions, a healthcare provider that serves immigrant jails. Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) bought at least $100,000 in CoreCivic stock in January. SuperPACs for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is now running for U.S. Senate, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Geo Group.

But the firms spread their cash around to both parties. Democrats in Congress have scrambled to clean up their campaign treasuries. Records showthe Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, taking a direct $10,000 donation from Geo Group in November 2017, and over $380,000 throughout the 2018 election cycle bundled by lobbyists connected to private prison companies. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticizedfor taking money from landlords who rent out field offices to ICE.

The pressure put on anyone profiting from or enabling ICE complements the direct-action tactics of a growing movement known as Occupy ICE. Abolitionists have physically blocked entrances to ICE buildings in San FranciscoLouisville, and Tacoma, Wash., leading to confrontations with law enforcement. In Portland, Ore., ICE temporarily closed its facility; in Los Angeles, one entrance has been barricaded since late June. An Occupy ICE blockade in Denver drew a SWAT team and ICE employees had to drive across the lawn to leave the building. “As much as we can, we’d like to interrupt their ability to do their job,” says one of the protesters arrested in Denver, who requested anonymity while his case is pending.

THE MULTI-PRONGED CAMPAIGN AGAINST ICE AND ITS PRIVATE-SECTOR PARTNERS IS HAVING AN IMPACT. After media scrutiny, MVM canceled its lease on the Phoenix office building housing migrant children. Consulting firm McKinsey terminated its contractwith ICE, although its management consultant work for the agency had already been completed. New York state directed all its pension funds to divest from Geo Group and CoreCivic, following New York City and Philadelphia. At least 10 members of Congress have rejected Geo Group donations, along with state Democratic parties in California and Florida. Many politicians and parties have passed on donations to organizations protecting immigrants at the border.

But the movement is hoping for a signature victory. So far, no household names, like General Dynamics or Microsoft, have severed contracts with immigration authorities, and Amazon recently promised its “unwavering” commitment to work with law enforcement. ICE abolitionists plan to keep up the pressure. “We don’t see activism fatigue; we see people stepping up,” says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.

Perhaps the most progress has been made in getting cities to cancel ICE contracts. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney revoked ICE’s access to a city law enforcement database, a huge win for local organizing groups. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms prevented city jails from accepting new ICE detainees. And at least six cities and countieshave canceled ICE contracts to use detention centers in their areas.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, recounts the organization’s victory in suburban Williamson County, Texas. The county voted in June to end its contract in January 2019 for the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, a CoreCivic-run women’s facility long accused of rampant abuse, though ICE could scramble to try and renegotiate. Grassroots Leadership used the testimony of 40 Hutto detainees separated from their families to sway county commissioners. “We had people going to the county every week to read letters of women detained there,” Libal says. “It was really the powerful experience that won.”

Some immigrant rights groups are wary of county closures because of the potential impact on current detainees. When Contra Costa County, Calif., Sheriff David Livingston revoked ICE’s contract to house migrants at the West County Detention Facility, the group Freedom for Immigrants feared detainees would be moved across state lines, far from their families and legal resources. “Canceling the contract shows that these protests are working,” says Liz Martinez, advocacy and communications director for Freedom for Immigrants. But the real goal, she says, is “to get people out of detention.”

Libal, whose Grassroots Leadership has been trying to close down the Hutto detention center since it opened in 2006, says it was critical for the movement to gain momentum. “You have to fight back somewhere, and one way to be effective is to win local battles,” he says.

Geo Group has lost at least one contract because of its association with family separation. Lancaster County, Penn., rejected a Geo Group attempt to take over prison re-entry services, even though the contract had nothing to do with immigration. “If they get painted as the family separator, that’s going to hurt them across the board,” says Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest.

Attacking the money alone will not fulfill the end goal; abolishing ICE will require legislation. But in the meantime, making ICE toxic can have powerful effects, preventing a return to the pre-Trump status quo of undocumented immigrants being treated abominably in virtual obscurity. It’s already shown up in polling data; in just a few short months, ICE is net unfavorable, even less popular than the IRS. When a concept bleeds into the culture, as Abolish ICE signs are being seen at sporting events and the Statue of Liberty, that signals the ground is shifting. “Even people who don’t want to abolish ICE really hate ICE,” says Sean McElwee, who popularized the Abolish ICE slogan. “It’s defined in an incredibly negative way, and that makes it hard to do its job.”

Combining street protests with research on who profits from the immigration system—a Gordian knot of opaque subcontracting and financing relationships that activists have been picking at for years—is critical to that effort. When every uniform, every catered meal, every transportation shuttle, everything ICE does is contested, it throws sand into the gears of its operation.

ICE’s extreme privatization was a catalyst to produce these pressure points, but it also speaks to a disconnect between capitalism and morality, and how family separation reveals those fissures. The ICE fight is about human rights but also labor rights—the rights of workers to exert democratic control over company contracts and reject immoral work. It’s about small towns with dried-up economies that have no choice but to become America’s migrant jailers. It’s about the influence of lobbyists, and also financiers. It’s about how the public gets a say in how public money should be spent. It’s about the over-criminalization that gets the undocumented on ICE’s radar. It’s even about our energy policy, with climate refugees soon to follow the current wave of asylum seekers fleeing violence.

“A lot of times in our politics, there’s a singular focus on who is elected and who might hold formal reins of power,” says Kevin Connor, co-founder of Little Sis, which has focused on ties between political and financial elites for years. “This is a moment where people are seeing a power structure above and beyond that. Research systems and organizing can lay the groundwork for this kind of moment where that power structure can be challenged more directly.”

This story was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.


Salesforce is contracted with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to use its cloud technology for information sharing. Protesters put the company on notice at the #WeWontBeComplicit march in New York City on July 31. (Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: David Dayen is an investigative fellow with In These Times‘ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. His book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud won the 2015 Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. He lives in Los Angeles, where prior to writing about politics he had a 19-year career as a television producer and editor.

New York bill would jail employers for discriminating over immigration status

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Employers in New York state could face a penalty of up to three months in prison and a $20,000 dollar fine if they make threats regarding a person’s immigration status, under a new bill proposed by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Undocumented workers face unique challenges in the workplace when it comes to filing grievances against management or speaking up about lost wages. The New York labor department claims it has investigated at least 30 cases over the last three years that involved threats to an employee’s immigration status. James’ legislation would make those threats illegal.

“New York state was built by immigrants and it has always stood proudly as a beacon of hope and opportunity no matter where you were born,” James said in a statement. “This legislation will represent a critical step toward protecting some of our most vulnerable workers by ensuring that they are not silenced or punished by threats related to their immigration status.”

The bill would amend a part of the New York Labor Law to refer employers who discriminate on the basis of immigration status to prosecutors, who could charge them with a misdemeanor and impose a fine up to $20,000 depending on the nature of the complaint and if the employer has a history of prior labor offenses.

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James’ announcement came one day after President Donald Trump reiterated in his State of the Union address calls to crack down on undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he said. “Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”

Trump’s namesake company, however, has previously employed undocumented workers itself, and two of them were present at the speech Tuesday night.

One of the guests was Victorina Morales, a former personal housekeeper for President Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey and Guatemalan immigrant. The other was Sandra Diaz, also a former golf club employee, who was born in Costa Rica and is now a legal resident.

Both women said they were happy to represent the millions of immigrants seeking a new life in the United States, and remind the president of those working for the Trump Organization.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

California laws protect undocumented workers from abuse by the boss

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Undocumented immigrant workers are some of the most vulnerable in the U.S., with employers all too often targeting them for abuse, paying them less than the law requires, and basically using ICE to put down worker organizing efforts. But California, which has the highest proportion of undocumented immigrant workers of any state, is leading the way in protecting them and penalizing abusive employers, the Economic Policy Institute’s Daniel Costa reports.

Seven laws enacted since 2013 send a message to employers: the law still applies. You don’t get to break labor laws just because your workers are undocumented.

  • California’s AB 263 (2013) prohibits employers from using threats related to immigration status to retaliate against employees who have exercised their labor rights. For example, if an employee complains to an employer about wages owed to her, and if the employer retaliates with threats related to the worker’s immigration status as an excuse to discharge or not pay the worker, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) can investigate and fine the employer, or the worker can bring a civil lawsuit against the employer. Employers guilty of retaliation based on immigration status may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 and the employer’s business license may be temporarily suspended.

Several other laws expand or clarify AB 263, including penalties for filing or threatening to file false reports and say that an “employer’s business license may be revoked (not just suspended temporarily) if the employer is found to have retaliated against an employee based on immigration status. In addition, a lawyer who participates in retaliatory activities on behalf of an employer may be suspended or disbarred.” Making threats about someone’s immigration status can lead to criminal extortion charges. Also:

  • California’s AB 450 (2017) can provide due process for workers in the face of an I-9 worksite audit and discourage employers from using the I-9 audit process to retaliate against employees. Under AB 450, employers are prohibited from providing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with access to nonpublic areas of the workplace and employment records when ICE has not obtained a warrant or subpoena, and AB 450 requires employers to notify workers when ICE plans to conduct an audit and inform workers about the details of the audit. Employers can be fined $2,000 to $5,000 for the first violation, and $5,000 to $10,000 for each additional violation. In addition, employers are prohibited from requiring their existing employees to reverify their work authorization at a time or manner not required by federal immigration law, and may face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation.
  • California’s SB 54 (2017), also known as the California Values Act, includes a provision that has the potential to make courts and government buildings more accessible to unauthorized workers (by decreasing the risk of detention by ICE agents while pursuing claims for workplace violations by employers). In light of increasing immigration enforcement activities at courthouses and state government buildings by ICE, unauthorized immigrant workers will face significant difficulties accessing the judicial system and due process. SB 54 provides for the upcoming publication (by October 2018) of model policies for ensuring that public facilities “remain safe and accessible to all California residents, regardless of immigration status.” These model policies have the potential to provide unauthorized immigrant workers with greater certainty that ICE agents will not be present in California courtrooms, thus creating a safer environment for immigrants to access the legal system and obtain due process.

But the fact that these laws were necessary goes to show how much exploitation, retaliation and abuse undocumented immigrants face on the job—and California is just one state. In too many places, these laws don’t exist to protect the workers who need them.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on March 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Construction job sites: the silent killer of immigrant workers

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The New York City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a safety bill that establishes safety protocols as a way to prevent construction worker deaths, following eight months of intensive review by lawmakers, day laborers, unions, real estate developers, and contractors.

The vote came nearly one week after two construction workers fell to their deaths hours apart in separate accidents.

That bill, Intro 1447-C, would establish safety training requirements for workers at construction sites. The legislation would require construction workers to receive at least 40 hours of safety training as specified by the Department of Buildings; allow employees to continue working while they complete the training; and develop a program that grants equal access to training for all workers, including day laborers and workers employed by certain small business contractors.

The bill also includes a required 40-hour class with the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA). A fine of $25,000 could be charged to construction sites that don’t adhere to the safety regulations for not having trained workers.

“Too many fatalities have occurred on construction sites in this city.”

“Too many fatalities have occurred on construction sites in this city,” NYC Council Speaker of the House Melissa Mark Viverito (D) said during the council meeting Wednesday. “It has clearly become well past time to take action on ensuring the safety of our residents.”

“We are protecting every single worker,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D) said at the same meeting. “The road was tough, but everyone was dedicated to that one mission … to make sure that not one more death come before us in construction sites in the richest city in the country, potentially the world, that we set an example for others. We want to change that culture today.”

The legislation, which is the third version of a bill that has been debated for eight months, couldn’t have come at a more important time. One week ago, two construction workers fell to their deaths in separate incidents across the city. One, a 43-year-old father of five originally from Ecuador, was wearing a harness, but was not clipped in, before falling from the 29th floor of a building in the Financial District. The other, a 45-year-old man, was wearing a safety harness, but wasn’t secured to the bucket lift before falling as the boom was descending. Another worker died at the same site in June.

There have been seven construction workers deaths in New York City so far this year, according to the NYC Buildings Department. In both 2016 and 2015, there were 12 deaths each year.

In a city where 26,739 new apartments are on track to becoming available this year and construction permits surged substantially in 2016 from the previous year, construction site accidents have long been a silent killer for immigrant workers. That has especially held true for Latinx and undocumented workers who may be too afraid to speak out against unsafe conditions for fear of deportation.

As the trend in worker fatality data indicates, Latinx and immigrant workers have morbidly expendable lives. As a whole, these two types of workers outpaced all other major groups for fatal work injuries across all industries. Just within the construction industry, a 2015 New York Times report found that safety measures at construction job sites were often “woefully inadequate” as determined by safety inspectors, government officials and prosecutors. Beyond that, a 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey found that fatal work injuries were the highest among Latinx workers than any other major racial/ethnic groups. Most recently, an AFL-CIO report from April, which surveyed 2015 BLS data across all industries, found that the “Latino fatality rate was 4.0 per 100,000 workers, 18 percent higher than the national average.” Among those Latinos who died, a full 67 percent were immigrant workers.

“Construction deaths and injuries has been an issue in our communities for a very long time and, frankly, it was not being addressed.”

Advocates for immigrant construction workers are glad for Intro-1447’s passage in large part because it puts a big spotlight on immigrant construction workers in the discussion on worker safety.

“Construction deaths and injuries has been an issue in our communities for a very long time and, frankly, it was not being addressed, so we’re thankful for the passage of Intro-1447,” Manuel Castro, the executive director at the workers advocacy group New York New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NY NICE), told ThinkProgress. “We want bad employers to be held accountable. Whenever there’s a construction death, whenever there’s an injury, that justice must come to those workers.”

Castro said that there weren’t many protections in place for immigrant construction workers before Intro-1447. Workers were given a 10-hour safety training. “The reality, however, is that a lot of workers start working on the sites without the training and it isn’t until weeks, maybe months after working that they look for a training and often they don’t find a training,” Castro said.

“They’re not given the appropriate training because the trainings aren’t vetted by anyone in the state,” Castro said. “The trainers are certified, but there isn’t much regulation over this. Other industries have a lot more extensive trainings.”

Castro and other NY NICE members were among those who held a “candlelight vigil” as city council members took a vote Wednesday with electronic candles to represent construction workers who had died on the job.

“When we talk about these issues, the people most impacted tend to be immigrant workers because some of the day laborers are without status,” Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the advocacy group New York Immigration Coalition, told ThinkProgress.

“[I]t comes down to the responsibility of the entire industry to have and implement safety practices within the workplace,” Awawdeh said. “As long as everyone is doing it, everyone will be safe. Contractors, big or small, do deviate and try to cut corners and continue to put people’s lives at risk. How can we ensure that everyone — unions to nonunions, documented and undocumented — are protected? So this is just the first step.”

Awawdeh recounted waiting outside his office for a meeting earlier this week and seeing an immigrant construction worker fall about 50 feet. He explained, “We are seeing this happen on a daily basis at this point — the guy survived, but was not attached to anything.”

The bill has provided hope for both Castro and Awawdeh that the city is taking a big step to ensure the safety of its immigrant construction workers.

“It marks the beginning of something really important in New York City,” Castro said. “The city is taking an active role in protecting immigrant workers. As a worker center that works with immigrant workers and day laborers, this is a very important step. We want to ensure more is done, but this is a critical step.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Esther Yu Hsi Lee is a reporter at ThinkProgress focusing on domestic and international migration policies. She has appeared on various television and radio shows to discuss immigration issues. Among other accolades, she was a White House Champion of Change. You can reach her at eylee@thinkprogress.org.

How Ending DACA Hurts All Low-Wage Workers

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

This morning Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will “wind down,” and in six months, end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a Department of Homeland Security initiative put in place in 2012 that temporarily deferred the deportation of approximately 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. DACA has been an unqualified success and has benefited not only the DACA recipients themselves, but also the country and the economy.

The young immigrants who met the requirements and passed the necessary background checks for DACA were promised by the federal government that they would not be removed from the United States for two years at a time, as long as they kept applying to renew, kept a clean criminal record, and were either enrolled in school or graduated, or serving in the military or honorably discharged. Because of these requirements, we know that nearly all of the recipients are deeply integrated into their local American communities and labor markets.

Along with protection from removal, DACA recipients are entitled to receive an employment authorization document (EAD), allowing them to be employed in the United States legally, along with certain other benefits. More than 100 legal experts and 20 state attorneys general have recently argued that DACA is a lawful use of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion, and as I have written before, the granting of an EAD to deferred action recipients is clearly authorized by statute. Together this means that eliminating DACA is entirely a political decision and not a legal one. The impact of this political decision is significant: 800,000 young immigrants—many of whom have never known another country except when they were small children—will become instantly deportable and lose the ability to work legally and contribute to the United States, and will be effectively left without labor rights and employment law protections in the workplace.

To call this decision tragic is an understatement. Not only is it inhumane—after President Trump promised to treat DACA recipients with “heart”—but the evidence is clear that DACA has positively benefited the U.S. labor market. The vast majority of DACA recipients are employed, 87 percent, and on average DACA recipients saw their wages increase by 42 percent after receiving an EAD. Those gains—and the higher tax revenue to the federal and state and local governments that have accompanied it and benefited public coffers—are now in jeopardy.

President Trump has also repeatedly voiced his desire to help improve working conditions for American workers, but by ending DACA he is harming the U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are employed alongside DACA recipients. Once DACA recipients lose their work authorization, they will effectively be unable to complain when they are paid below the minimum wage, aren’t paid for overtime hours, or when their employer subjects them to unsafe conditions at the workplace. All immigrant workers who are unauthorized are often too afraid to speak out when employers take advantage of them, because they know their bosses can threaten them with deportation and use their immigration status to retaliate against them. The impact of this is not theoretical: research has shown that unauthorized immigrants suffer much higher rates of wage theft than U.S. citizens. The reasonable fear unauthorized workers feel keeps them docile and quiet, which in turn diminishes the bargaining power of Americans who work alongside unauthorized workers. Ending DACA and forcing these young workers out of the formal, regulated labor market, thus making them easily exploitable, will not help American workers, it will do the opposite.

Ending DACA will destroy the educational and employment prospects of 800,000 young immigrants who did nothing wrong, while at the same time hurting the wages and labor standards of American workers. If President Trump were serious about improving labor standards for working people, he would reconsider and reverse his decision.

 This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 5, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Daniel Costa has been director of immigration law and policy research since 2013, having joined EPI in 2010 as an immigration policy analyst. An attorney, his current areas of research include a wide range of labor migration issues, including the management of temporary foreign worker programs, both high- and less-skilled migration, immigrant workers’ rights, and forced migration, including refugee and asylum issues and the global migration crisis.

Why Defending Workers’ Rights Means Fighting ICE’s Deportation Machine

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Last month, California Labor Commissioner Julie Su distributed a memo instructing her staff to turn away any Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who show up at labor offices without a federal warrant. This action came in response to three recent cases in which ICE sought workers’ information shortly after they filed claims against their employers. Su told The Los Angeles Times that, in two of these cases, ICE officials showed up at the employees’ labor hearing. In case ICE continues to show up at such hearings, Su provided suggested scripts to guide the interaction. “Would you please leave our office? The Labor Commissioner does not consent to your entry or search of any part of our office,” reads one portion of the text.

ICE’s targeting of labor hearings falls into a much broader pattern of workplace immigration raids. The second term of the George W. Bush administration saw a boom in such policies, with authorities carrying out hundreds of sweeps targeting workers. In May of 2008, hundreds of Homeland Security agents swooped into Postville, Iowa and arrested 389 employees at a kosher meatpacking plant. Nearly 300 of those workers spent five months in jail before being deported. In a town with a population of just 2,300 people, this meant that more than 10 percent of all residents were incarcerated as the result of one raid. “They don’t go after employers. They don’t put CEOs in jail,” said Postville Community Schools superintendent David Strudthoff at the time. “[This] is like a natural disaster—only this one is man-made. In the end, it is the greater population that will suffer and the workforce that will be held accountable.”

While Barack Obama deported more people than any other president, the tactic of targeting workers fluctuated on his watch. Data from ICE indicates that workplace immigration arrests peaked for Obama in 2011—but never reached the levels seen under Bush. The National Employment Law Project’s (NELP) Haeyoung Yoon told In These Times that, while we haven’t seen widespread examples of workplace raids under the Trump administration, this doesn’t mean they’re not coming eventually. “These efforts take a lot of time to plan,” said Yoon.

Underscoring Yoon’s point, 55 undocumented workers were detained in February in a series of Mississippi restaurant raids. After the arrests, ICE public affairs officer Thomas Byrd said that the federal search warrants were part of a year-long investigation.

State organizations like the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition are training employers to prepare for the possibility of such sweeps. NELP and the National Immigration Law Center have created a helpful guide for businesses concerned about ICE raids, which includes details on how to keep agents out, what to do if they enter and what actions can be taken after they leave. “Employers and their employees have rights when it comes to immigration enforcement in the workplace,” wrote NELP staff attorney Laura Huizar shortly after the guide was published. “Employers can and should take steps now to protect those rights and do what’s best for their business and their teams.”

In California, where almost half of the state’s farmworkers are undocumented, there have been recent legislative efforts to combat workplace raids. The SEIU-sponsored Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) is a bill, introduced this March, that would require all employers to demand a federal warrant if ICE shows up. The legislation, which was introduced by San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu, would also prevent businesses from handing over personal employee information unless they were subpoenaed.

But what is to be done about employers who willingly collude with ICE? While explaining her memo, Julie Su told the Los Angeles Times that she suspected businesses of tipping agents off to labor hearings, events where only the employer and employee would be aware of the scheduled time. Earlier this year, Jose Flores, a 37-year-old Massachusetts man, was arrested by ICE shortly after a workers’ compensation meeting. Flores’ lawyers believe that the arrest might have been retaliation from Flores’ employer, Tara Construction, looking for a way to get out of paying out the claim. Stephen Murray, a lawyer for Tara Construction, insists that his client made no contact with ICE and had no reason to believe Flores’ was undocumented.

A recent investigation by ProPublica and NPR reveals that this is hardly an isolated case. Their review focuses on Florida, where a 2003 law made it illegal to for workers to file compensation claims using false identification. In the 14 years since, at least 130 injured workers were arrested under the law. At least one in four of those workers was detained by ICE or deported. “State fraud investigators have arrested injured workers at doctor’s appointments and at depositions in their workers’ comp cases,” reads the report. “Some were taken into custody with their arms still in slings.”

The report also points out that the Florida model could be a preview of widespread things to come under the Trump administration. If this is true, then the labor movement could end up taking a closer look at Tom Cat Bakery in Queens, where a Homeland Security inquiry and promise of subsequent firings sparked radical protests. Employers who openly collude with Trump’s deportation machine might soon be targets of the same resistance.

 This article was originally published at In These Times on August 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

In Their Own Words: Why Immigrant Worker Protections Must Be Extended

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

A primary goal of the labor movement is to make every job in our country a good job. To do that, we must and we will stand with every worker in the fight for basic rights and dignity on the job. More than 1 million working people are in danger of having their work permits stripped away if the Trump administration ends the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs. This is unacceptable. We will fight for and with them just as they have fought for and with all of us.

The DACA and TPS programs help working people and they help the country. Here are just a few stories of union members whose lives have been changed because of these programs. Please send us your story of how DACA and TPS made your life better and helped you exercise your basic rights and find dignity on the job.

Reyna Sorto, Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) member:

Employers exploit immigrant workers because they think our fear will keep us silent from speaking out against abuses, even though TPS is not permanent, it does provide a level of protection that can give a worker strength to speak truth to power and denounce exploitative working conditions.

Karen Reyes, DACAmented teacher in Austin, Texas, and member of AFT:

DACA made me visible. It made me realize that those opportunities that I thought were not for me—were now possible. DACA made it possible for me to be able to find a job in teaching. It made it possible to be able to earn money to be help out my mom while she went through numerous health issues. DACA made it possible for me to teach children who are deaf and hard of hearing. DACA made me find my voice and made me be able to live without fear. We must #DefendDACA because after living here for 26 years—I am here to stay.

Gerdine Vessagne, housekeeper in Miami Beach, Florida:

TPS has allowed me to provide for my five children, including two back home and three born here. But this isn’t just about me. Over 50,000 Haitian nationals working in the U.S. have this protected status. We are the engine of Florida’s hospitality industry, much of which greatly depends on our labor.

Cecilia Luis, housekeeper in Orlando, Florida.:

I know a lot of people here that don’t eat or sleep because they’re worried they’ll be sent back to Haiti. It’s not as easy to leave when you’re sending money to your family to help them survive. My God knows everything, and I’m asking him to speak to their hearts so they don’t do this. A lot of people will suffer.

Areli Zarate, DACAmented teacher in Austin, Texas:

DACA allowed me the opportunity to come out of the shadows and lose the fear of deportation. I have a social security number and work permit which gives me the opportunity to follow my dream and teach. I am about to begin my fourth year of teaching with a big heart filled with love and passion for my profession. I am dedicated to my students and it’s hard to see myself doing something else. Yet, every time I have to renew my DACA I am reminded that my status is temporary. I am currently pending a decision on my renewal and I am praying to God that I will be allowed to teach for another two years until my next renewal.

Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity, spoke for many working people in the hospitality industry:

The American hospitality industry runs because of the women and men on DACA and TPS working in it. These immigrants prove their value to this country every day, and many have been living in and contributing to America for more than a decade. These men and women have deep roots in this country, and are longtime employees, spouses, parents, neighbors and community members. Losing DACA and TPS would destroy both their families and the hotel industry that is built on their work. We must extend TPS and protect DACA—for our sisters and brothers working under them, for their families and for the health of the American economy.

These stories make it clear that the ability to exploit any worker undermines standards for all working people. Increasing the pool of vulnerable workers in our country directly threatens the labor movement’s mission of raising wages and improving working conditions. We call on our nation’s leaders to reverse the destructive course we are on and take these immediate steps to reduce the fear in our workplaces:

  • Defend DACA and protect this vital young workforce;
  • Continue TPS for all affected countries; and
  • Protect labor rights by preventing immigration enforcement from interfering with other important roles of government.

The words of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sum it up:

DACA and TPS holders are members of our families, our unions and our communities who have made positive contributions to our society for many years. We will not allow them to lose their rights and status. We will stand with them in the fight to defend these programs as a necessary part of our long-term struggle to ensure that all working people have rights at work and the freedom to negotiate together for fair pay and conditions.

We call on the Trump administration to demonstrate a genuine commitment to lifting up the wages, rights and standards of all working people by acting to defend and extend vital DACA and TPS protections.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on August 16, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Trump’s Bid to Pit Black and Brown Workers Against Each Other

Monday, August 7th, 2017

President Trump has resurrected an old canard in his effort to sell a new effort to restrict immigration into the United States. The legislation he backs, he said at a White House ceremony, was necessary in part to protect “minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals” under the current immigration system.

This theme is a hardy perennial in right-wing media and think-tank reports, often featuring members of a small but persistent cadre of conservative black people willing to be the face of the pernicious idea that in order to boost the fortunes of African Americans, we have to keep new immigrants out of the country.

This notion keeps getting debunked, but Trump trotted it out anyway as his administration launches key assaults against the core concerns of African-American people.

This comes the same week as news reports that the Justice Department is gearing up a new assault on affirmative action programs at colleges, based on the lie that these programs discriminate against white and Asian college applicants.

Career civil-rights lawyers in the Justice Department are so aghast at the idea that their agency’s efforts are being redirected from addressing the continuing effects of structural racism that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to use political appointees and outside lawyers to lead the effort.

Remember that this pronouncement also is in the shadow of a speech Trump gave before police officers in Long Island, New York, in which he encouraged police officers to rough up criminal suspects.

“[W]hen you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump told the assembly of law enforcement officers.

Even people in his own administration denounced the speech as inappropriate, as did prominent police chiefs. Later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed Trump’s comment as a joke.

But in African-American communities around the country, where the drumbeat of stories of police officers using clearly unwarranted deadly force against African Americans continues to reverberate, no one was laughing.

Vice senior editor Wilbert Cooper convincingly took on the black-people-harmed-by-immigration myth in a 2016 essay. Not only is it false that immigration of lower-skilled people harms African-American employment prospects, he wrote that “counter to what Trump and others contend, there’s evidence that immigration can actually help low-skilled blacks get back to work.”

Denver University economist Jack Strauss analyzed a wide breadth of data from metropolitan areas across the US in 2013 to determine whether blacks in particular lose out when it comes to immigration. He found there to be a “one-way causation from increased immigration including Latinos to higher black wages and lower poverty.” In other words, immigration is good for black workers. According to Strauss’s summary of his findings, a “1 percent rise in Latino immigration contributes to a 1.4 percent increase in employment rates among African Americans,” and “for every 1 percent increase in a city’s share of Latinos, African median and mean wages increase by 3 percent.”

The reality is, as Cooper writes, cities like Cleveland and Detroit are working to attract immigrants, because of the impact immigrants have on the overall economic vitality of the communities they make their home.

Jobs Tell The Story

On Friday, the federal government will release an updated picture of the nation’s employment situation. The previous report, covering June, showed that the nation’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent, and African-American unemployment was 7.1 percent, down significantly from 8.8 percent in June 2016.

The significant decrease in black unemployment is in itself a direct rebuke to the idea that drastic measures to restrict immigration are necessary to lower unemployment rates in African-American communities.

What that progress affirms that economic growth combined with economic justice and fairness is essential to closing the gaps between black, brown and white employment prospects.

What The Nation Needs

What the nation needs is not an assault on immigration, but an assault on the effects of structural racism and economic inequality. Instead of dismantling affirmative action, we need investments in schooling for African-American children that start at preschool – and before.

We need to reinvest in communities that have been left behind by the free-market idolatry of too many state governments and, now, the federal government itself. We need every worker to have a living wage and access to affordable housing.

Above all, we need to end the assaults on the fundamental dignity of African-American people – from the coded reference to “thugs” who need to be roughed up by police to the active exalting by White House officials of the nostrums of white nationalism.

Thanks but no thanks, President Trump. The overwhelming majority of African Americans don’t want your faux paternalism at the expense of our immigrant brothers and sisters.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on August 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Immigrant Nurses Demand Equal Pay—And Win

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

 It started when a few nurses at Temple University Hospital told stewards that they weren’t being paid for their experience.

One of the first to speak up was Jessy Palathinkal, who had become a nurse in India in 1990. She got her U.S. nursing license when she moved here in 1995. But when she started working at Temple, her placement on the pay scale was as though those five years of nursing never happened.

She asked why. Human Resources told her the hospital didn’t count years of experience in foreign countries.

“I was feeling a little bit upset. I had all the certification,” Palathinkal said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s not right, but what can I do?’”

What Palathinkal did was tell her shop steward. The steward told officers of their union, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). And the officers started asking around to see whether anyone else was affected.

They put out a call in their monthly newsletter—did anyone else think that their pay was incorrect for their level of experience? Three more nurses had the same complaint.

Four nurses joined a class-action grievance. Management denied it. That’s when union officers decided this was a hospital-wide issue.

Double standard

Management’s argument was that foreign experience was not comparable to U.S. experience. But the underpaid nurses coming forward had something else in common: they were primarily people of color, mainly from India.

That struck nurse Mary Adamson as unfair. After all, everyone had met the requirements to become a registered nurse in the U.S. “All these people had to take the test, and they passed it,” said Adamson, the union’s membership secretary. “They had the knowledge.”

“Maybe in H.R. they were thinking, because India is a third-world country, maybe they don’t want to take my experience,” Palathinkal said. “I can prove my knowledge and skills here, based on my work in India.”

“They were chipping away at contract language, doing it covertly, and targeting people that they knew would be afraid to speak up,” Adamson said.

An attack on the contract

She and other union officers at Temple saw this pattern of underpayment as an attack on the contract. If members aren’t vigilant, management can underpay nurses in many ways—overtime, shift differential, holiday pay. This was no different.

“Truthfully, their experience is just as valuable as working down the street,” Adamson said. “Health care is health care.”

The officers brought the grievance to the bargaining team, already in contract talks. This wasn’t a question of the difference between nurses trained abroad and those trained in the U.S., they argued—the problem was management not respecting the contract. The union’s 20-member bargaining team agreed to raise the issue in negotiations.

Although it was nothing like 2010, when Temple nurses struck for 28 days, the 2016 contract campaign was vigorous. A hundred nurses packed into bargaining sessions; 1,000 signed petitions for better staffing. The union threatened an informational picket before winning a final contract agreement that included a provision spelling out that foreign nurses’ experience should be treated equally.

Meanwhile the original grievance was headed to arbitration, but at the last minute, management caved and agreed to grant back pay to the original four nurses, in addition to bumping them up to the right place on the wage scale.

Winning clear contract language was a breakthrough, but the fight wasn’t over yet. “That expanded the universe” of nurses who might be affected, Adamson said. At membership meetings the union found more underpaid nurses. Ultimately a dozen were brought up to their correct places on the scale.

Raising consciousness

The whole saga was a new experience for Palathinkal, who had never worked at a union hospital before. At the start, “I didn’t have any knowledge of what I was supposed to do or who was I supposed to talk to,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘This is not going to work.’”

But it did. “The union stood up for me,” she said.

This grievance fight gave union activists a way to get recent hires involved and show them what the union is about. “Not everyone has been through a strike,” Adamson said. “We are constantly trying to raise the consciousness of new people who are coming in.”

Many of the affected nurses have stayed engaged, signing petitions and coming to meetings. “People become more aware of, ‘The boss might be cheating me,’” Adamson said. “Any time we get a win, people are happy about it. It reinforces among the workers that we’re watching.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Samantha Winslow is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.

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