Breaking the Law: Capitalist Penalties vs. Worker Penalties
Agriprocessors, the Kosher meat producer in Postville, Iowa, was
raided by ICE last month, when 400 workers, mostly Mexican or Central
American, were placed under detention. These mothers and children are
greatly affected by the ICE raids. All of these mothers wear ankle detention
bracelets with GPS tracking.Their husbands have all been detained by
ICE and these women, who also were arrested in the raids, have been
released to care for their children. Postville, Iowa is a town that is at the
centerpoint of the immigration issue in America.
PHOTO /STAR TRIBUNE/MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL 2008
Editor’s note: The editorial below is reprinted from our sister publication, the Tribuno del Pueblo.
Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama remain silent as hundreds of families are ripped apart and a community struggles through the impact of the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. On May 12, federal authorities raided Agriprocessors, the world’s largest kosher meat packing plant, in Postville, Iowa, taking nearly 400 workers into custody. The raid and its devastating impact on the community has been in the headlines, but,where is the leadership from our prospective Presidential candidates?
Workers that were taken into custody faced charges including aggravated identity theft, using false Social Security numbers and unlawful re-entry into the U.S. Once arrested, workers were appointed criminal rather than immigration attorneys, which made their cases difficult to defend. Each attorney was assigned approximately 17 clients and had seven days to develop their cases. Workers were then brought into a makeshift court in groups of 10 with their hands and feet in chains and were pressured to take plea deals; 297 workers pleaded guilty and now face five months in a federal prison and deportation.
WAGE, LABOR & IMMIGRATION VIOLATIONS
This process has been cited as the quickest prosecution of immigrants in history. After the rush to prosecute, detained workers have now spoken with attorneys and are reporting appalling abuse and inhumane working conditions. Reports include demanding payment or sex in exchange for jobs, a methamphetamine lab in the plant, verbal abuse, and physical abuse including one worker whose eyes were duct-taped shut while beaten with a meat hook. Workers also reported not being allowed to use the restroom during 10-hour shifts, not being compensated for overtime, having “immigration fees” withheld from their paychecks, and that Agriprocessors obtained false identification for its employees.
These serious wage, labor and immigration violations have led workers to filing a federal class action lawsuit. The lawsuit argues that, as victims of these crimes, they should be eligible for special visas because immigrants are usually protected in cases of abuse and trafficking. In addition, the lawsuit argues that some of the workers who have spouses and children that are U.S. citizens could be eligible for immigration relief. However, due to the speed at which the prosecution was handled, the appointed attorneys did not have time to uncover these issues and properly defend their clients.
Unfortunately, the horror story does not end there. In March 2008, the Iowa Department of Labor cited Agriprocessor with 39 workplace safety violations, including exposure to hazardous chemicals and blood-borne pathogens as well as broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss. Agriprocessors is also under investigation for violating child labor laws. What punishments has Agriprocessors received for breaking countless wage, labor, safety and immigration laws? To date no charges have been brought against any company official for hiring undocumented workers and the state has reduced fines for the 39 safety violations from $182,000 to $42,750.
NEED FOR JUSTICE
Obama, who claims to want to “crack down on employers” who hire undocumented workers, has been silent. McCain has been silent. No response from either in the face of countless human rights abuses and outright illegal behavior. The lack of penalty to Agriprocessor clearly demonstrates that the priority is not workers’ rights. The similarity of their platforms on immigration reform is striking. Both want to seal the borders before any other action and neither speak directly or decisively about stopping the raids.
Closing the border does not deal with the economic policies, like NAFTA and CAFTA, that create the conditions where workers need to leave their home countries to survive. The government has been approaching the issue of immigration reform through the lens of closing the borders for decades and yet people are still migrating. The only real result has been the terror that workers and families are subjected to in a raid or while trying to cross the border. This is not a solution this is torture.
We need to demand a real and humane solution to the problem that addresses the root causes of the problem. The government flagrantly disregarded the rights of these workers and the well being of their community members both documented and undocumented while letting immoral and illegal company officials off with a slap on the wrist. This is not about obeying laws, this is about continuing the capitalists’ ability to profit. The government has made its choice to stand on the side of the capitalist. Now, we need to make our choice to stand on the side of all workers. An injury to one is an injury to all.
This article originated in the People's Tribune
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