When news broke that hundreds of immigrants had been detained on charges of working illegally at a meat plant in Iowa, immigrant activists were mostly concerned that workers’ rights were being violated.
On May 12, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the Agriprocessers meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, arresting more than 300 workers. Fearing a similar fate, many immigrants sought refuge in churches in Postville. Many immigrant families have been grossly affected as some of the detainees were the sole bread winners of their families.
“We stand in solidarity with the hundreds of families who await an uncertain future and are faced with the possibility of family separation and deportation,” said Lauren Bastien, an activist with the Jewish Community Action in Minnesota, at a rally in Minneapolis on May 16.
Bastien declared that there was a need for the federal government to urgently work on “comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and humane”.
Another community activist, Erika Zurawski called on communities to engage immigrants and educate them on their rights as workers. Zurawski called for the Bush administration and other politicians to address real issues that were affecting Americans instead of using immigrants as “election scapegoats, as they did in the midterm elections in 2006.”
Zurwaski also commended the Postville community for standing in solidarity with the families of affected immigrants. As churches filled with people seeking safety from immigration officials, community members donated food and clothes to these churches. In this same vein, she called onto Minnesotans to join forces with Postville and to support their own immigrant community.
“We need to oppose legislation that is against immigration and immigrants.” Zurawski called for Minnesotans to protect Minneapolis and St. Paul status as sanctuary cities. St. Paul and Minneapolis have ordinances that stop local government employees, including police, from inquiring about immigration status in most circumstances. For example, police may not ask a crime victim or witness about his/her immigration status.
While Minneapolis commuters left work for home that evening, they were treated to placards, fliers and chants speaking against government raids at work places. “What do we want? STOP THE RAID! And when do want it? NOW! When Workers and Immigrants rights are threatened, what do we do? STAND UP and FIGHT!”
Speaking to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Ernest Mailhot, a candidate for Senate (Socialist Workers) said he is certain that Congress has dragged its feet in making immigration reform because both the U.S. government and businesses want to control immigrant workers. Full legalization of illegal immigrants, he says, is the only practical solution to lax immigration laws.
Jenny Shegos, an activist with the Socialist Workers Party: “Real change to immigrant rights will be led by immigrant workers.” Like with many movements around the world, she said that as immigrants rights continue to be infringed upon then they would rise up.
Apart from the immediate violation of human rights by employers and government agencies, these community activists are keen on having an immigration reform that would lead to the legalization of illegal immigrants and enforcement of workers’ rights.