Friday, December 15, 2006

Immigration Enforcement - Human Rights Issues!

Has anyone been following the stories of this week's immigration raids in 6 states? Synopsis: 1200 people detained, about half are immigrants from Mexico. The story is similar to what we saw in the Star Packaging case in Walworth County, WI - identity theft by undocumented immigrants so they can get working papers.

38% of individuals in the meatpacking industry are foreign-born noncitizens ( Justice & Witness page). Some coverage I've read estimates that 50% of the Swift company workforce is now gone. According to coverage I've read so far, these individuals are being held, without access to lawyers or clergy, at a military installation. Here's some of the coverage:

Wisconsin Ag Connection - Not known for being a liberal bastion, but references potential civil rights violations. - Thoughtful approach to "what could have been done differently"
What about the children? - No matter what your position on immigration issues, do these children really deserve to be traumatized?
Expect More - NYT article cites anticipation of further crackdowns, courtesy of Homeland Security
Clergy and Victim Rights Advocates Denied - Advocates attempt to get access to detainees in Iowa, and fail. More here.
Swift & Company official website. Links to company news releases. Note there are reports the company filed to try to stop the raids & cooperate with ICE, and were refused.
Chicago Tribune coverage. Cites Pew Hispanic Center study on the industry.

A letter I received at work, cosigned by the head of both the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Iowas Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

To our sister coalitions throughout the United States and territories,

We are writing to make you aware of the abuse of human rights and absence of due process that is currently underway as a result of what is reported as the largest immigration raid in US history. On Tuesday, ICE officials descended on Swift meatpacking plants in Marshalltown, Iowa; Grand Island, Nebraska; Greeley, Colorado; Hyrum, Utah; and Cactus, TX. Over 1,200 people were reportedly arrested. A large number (not certain how many) of detainees from Iowa and Nebraska are being held at a National Guard facility (Camp Dodge) in the Des Moines area.

Here in Iowa, ICE officials were flown in from all over the country, and descended with chartered buses, hauling away 3 busloads from the Swift plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. They had no opportunity to communicate with anyone. As of this morning, no one, not even clergy, has been allowed to see them. Family members, attorneys, advocates, priests, ministers, have all been denied access, even to offer minimal information on their basic rights. The detainees were reportedly told that they can call a lawyer if they provide the full name and phone number. Two IowaCASA staff were threatened with arrest yesterday as they sought permission to pass out pamphlets to the detainees aboard the buses. One is a US citizen by birth, but born in Germany, one born in Mexico and a legal permanent resident. They did not have identification on their persons and were told they could be arrested on the spot for the “crime” of failing to carry identification papers at all times.

Throughout yesterday and today a coalition of groups coordinated by Sonia Parras Konrad of ICADV’s MUNA clinic, attempted to get information to the detainees, coordinate press, create a united clergy effort, etc. There is also a widespread effort by immigration attorneys to assist the detainees in other states.

There are many awful stories emerging, particularly in regard to the children: a house of 35 children without parents and community members attempting to care for them; a priest trying to find a breastfeeding mother whose infant won’t eat and being denied access; the same priest trying to find a father of an asthmatic child to get information about the child’s care and again being denied access; attendance at the Marshalltown schools down by 25% yesterday. Other reports of frantic families have emerged, a man desperately trying to give some money to his wife sitting on one of the buses before it was driving away, and being prevented from doing so; teenagers trying to figure out how to get paperwork and assistance to their parents.

It is horrible and devastating. Accused rapists and mass murderers are routinely afforded far more rights than these people whose “crime” was to work at very difficult low-wage jobs.

At the moment, the coalition advocates are again attempting to get in to see the detainees to give them information about their rights, find out about children needing assistance, etc. It is unclear as of this writing whether they have been admitted.

Next week, families all over the United States will be united over meals that include roasts and hams prepared by these workers. As other families come together, those who helped provide the food will be alone in detention, worried about husbands, wives, children, and face to face with the worst this country has to offer.

We ask you to join in expressing our outrage at policies that violate human rights, due process, devastate families, and make none of us proud.
I am not making any statement on the culpability of employers in hiring, our our complicity in supporting this industry. That is another topic for another day. However, biblical tradition points us towards refuge and hospitality for the stranger and sojourner in our midst. These are human beings, not anonymous numbers. Please consider what your faith calls you to do in the face of this human suffering.

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