The Bush administration’s enforcement-only policy was a disaster for workers. Administration officials became masters of misdirection, as Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted terrorizing worksite raids under the guise of meaningful immigration reform.
On December 12, 2006, the Bush administration conducted massive worksite raids at six Swift and Company meatpacking plants, rounding up, detaining and criminalizing thousands of workers at each plant for doing no more than reporting to work, no more than trying to earn a living.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union that today represents the workers in those plants, established a National Commission on ICE Misconduct soon after. The Commission held five hearings on those and other raids, in cities across the nation. Now it has released a report telling the story of the human toll exacted by the Bush administration’s enforcement-only policy, in the hope it will trigger a dialogue on immigration reform with our new administration.
It’s the story of workers’ terrifying ordeal, when ICE agents handcuffed them, denied their right to counsel or to meet with union representation, and didn’t even have the decency to let workers use the bathroom or call their families. It’s the story of workers held against their will, native born and immigrant citizens alike—all because the Bush administration had identified, out of the 12,000 people working at those Swift plants, 133 who were suspected of identity theft. It’s the story of misplaced priorities on national security. As Senator John Kerry, who spoke at Commission hearing in Massachusetts, said of a raid there:
On March 6th of 2007, of all the dangers that were lurking in America…of all the threats being assessed by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, apparently, on that day, none were more insidious or challenging to us, or more menacing, than several hundred people, mostly women, in New Bedford who were making backpacks for the U.S. Army.
The consequences were grave; towns were devastated, families were torn apart. Children and parents suffered lasting mental effects. A high school student, Maria, described her mother’s arrest at a Swift plant and how she broke the news to her younger siblings:
At night, I had to do the hardest thing in the world, explain to a three-year-old and a five-year-old what was happening and why their mother wasn’t coming home. They looked at me with their eyes filled with tears. I felt the same way, so helpless and alone…Many kids are scared of the boogieman, but [my siblings] are afraid of ICE.
And the consequences for workers’ civil liberties were just as horrifying. In the report’s introduction, UFCW International President Joe Hansen describes the Bush administration’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law. “Racial profiling. Due process ignored… the Constitution tossed aside.”
The Commission offers this report as a record of an administration utterly abdicating its responsibility to provide a workable immigration policy. But it’s also offered as an opening for a new dialogue on immigration with the Obama administration, with a president committed to the idea that our ideals and security need not be mutually exclusive.
And central to that discussion, that dialogue, is the idea that at its core immigration is about workers. We need a productive immigration discussion about all workers, native born and immigrant, and their rights, protections, and opportunities to achieve the American Dream.
crossposted at DailyKos