Unions denounce illegal detention practices by immigration officers.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Thursday joined with community groups, civil rights leaders and immigrant rights activists to condemn abuse and misconduct by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Across the country, ICE enforcement teams have used unwarranted physical force to illegally detain workers in misguided attempts at enforcing failed U.S. immigration policies, the union said. The national meeting was held to hear workers’ testimony, many of whom were illegally held against their will, denied access to telephones, attorneys and even bathrooms.
Among those attending was UFCW Local 1161 President Mike Potter, who represents workers at the Swift Company packing plant in Worthington, Minn., where several hundred people were detained last December. Members of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network also participated.
“The excessive show of force—the abusive conduct, the disregard for individual rights and the lack of concern for working families—it would make you think this incident occurred in a foreign country or in a distant era,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen in convening the meeting. “But, unfortunately, the ICE raids happened in America’s heartland in our times. It happened to America’s workers—to our brothers and sisters. It happened to our fellow Americans, native born and immigrant.”
Workers were denied access to telephones, bathrooms and legal counsel. Citizens and legal residents were denied the opportunity to retrieve documents to establish their legal status. Some were handcuffed and held for hours. Others were shipped out on buses.
During the raids, families, schools and day care centers could not be contacted to make arrangements for the children of detained workers. Families were left divided—not knowing where or when they might see a missing family member again.
“Our union is standing up and speaking out about our members’ constitutional rights,” said Hansen. “They were illegally detained in these ICE raids. We have spent decades winning workers’ rights, and we will not sit idly by as federal agents deny them their 4th Amendment rights.”
The UFCW sponsored the National Meeting on ICE Misconduct and Violations of 4th Amendment Rights to bring together voices across the country; to collect the stories of workers who have suffered during ICE raids; and to plot a course of action on how best to respond.
“When I tried to report to the cafeteria during the raid, ICE agents accused me of trying to run away,” said Mike Graves, who works at the Swift plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, and is a member of UFCW Local 1149.
“They held me in handcuffs. I’m a U.S. citizen, born in Iowa. My parents live in Mississippi. My government treated me like a criminal and I didn’t do anything wrong. I knew our rights were being violated. What they’re doing in these raids is illegal.”
More than 12,000 meatpacking workers were swept up in ICE raids on Dec. 12, 2006. Since then, many workers in other industries have been arrested, detained against their will and denied contact with their families in subsequent raids. Thousands of workers affected by these raids are U.S. citizens and legal residents.
“The justification, in the Swift raids, for the mass disruption of work, family and community, the bullying, the intimidation, the fear, and the threats directed at the workers, was a handful of warrants involving less than a fraction of one percent of the workers swept up in the ICE action,” said Hansen.
“Workers were held by armed agents, herded together and systematically stripped of their rights,” said Gabriela Flora, an organizer in the central region of Project Voice of the American Friends Service Committee.
“Politicians cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue to say our immigration system is broken and needs fixing, then turn around and insist on excessive and illegal enforcement measures that make the problems worse for everyone—workers, business, and communities,” said Hansen.
At the conclusion of the national community meeting, the UFCW organized the “National Working Group on ICE Misconduct and Violations of 4th Amendment Rights,” designed to help develop a national strategic response to the increased number of ICE raids and enforcement actions.
The group will document what happened to union members during the raids, expose abuse and misconduct and present the evidence to Congress. The Working Group intends to show that ICE agents’ tactics during raids in December 2006 were in violation of the federal government’s own rules. The group will collect other testimony from workplace sites where other raids occurred, and will demand that higher-up authorities in the federal government be held accountable.
“Work is not a crime. Workers are not criminals. We do not leave our constitutional rights at the plant gate,” said Hansen. “The stories of workers caught up in these raids must be heard. Their experience should serve as the foundation for congressional hearings. Our political leaders must do something to secure 4th Amendment rights in the workplace.”
The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers across the country, including 250,000 in the packing and food processing industries.