National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

A Busy Day Indeed…

May 21, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

A few items of interest today that we wanted to flag.  First, Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a coalition managed by Sojourners, has posted a 5:30 minute video on YouTube about the Postville, Iowa raids, the impact on the community, the role churches are playing, what the workers experienced, and how horrible the working conditions really are.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) has a story today that goes deeper into the hiring practices and working conditions of Agriprocessors, the business that was raided, with interviews with several former workers.

“They were constantly pushing us and forcing us to work faster,” Yolanda said through a translator. “They were very abusive, screaming a lot.”

Yolanda’s sister Maria, 32, said she resisted the sexual advances of a Guatemalan supervisor who tried to force himself on her in a car. In the days that followed, Maria, who describes herself as a diligent worker, was accused of coming late to work and was denied overtime pay.  […]

Maria eventually complained and the supervisor was fired. But other workers appeared to keep quiet about alleged mistreatment out of fear they would be turned over to the authorities.

“There was such fear in that community that they were afraid to go talk to anybody,” said Kevin Williamson, the international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. – “As Agriprocessors scrambles to keep  plant open, former workers speak out,” by Ben Harris, JTA, May 21, 2008

Yesterday, a press conference in Washington with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus featured Sister Kathy Thill of Waterloo who offered her moving perspective on the Postville raid.  Here is a snippet of the Des Moines Register’s story:

The Catholic nun has assisted immigrant families there following the detainment of 389 workers at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant.

She is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas who works with Latino families in Iowa.

“I am also a United States citizen who grew up believing that this is a democratic country in which the dignity of all people is respected and their rights protected,” she said Tuesday at a news conference here, surrounded by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“This is not the country I experienced this past week.”

Thill, several times choking up with emotion, told of the shock and distress of immigrants who gathered at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church the day of the raid.

“Hundreds of families were torn apart by this raid,” she said….”The humanitarian impact of this raid is obvious to anyone in Postville,” Thill said. “The economic impact will soon be evident.” – “Immigrants feel distress, shock, nun says,” by Jane Norman, Des Moines Register, May 21, 2008

The press conference followed a hearing on immigration and workplace raids in the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).  The Des Moines Register and Workforce Management magazine each wrote stories worth a read.

Also yesterday, the Senate acted late in the evening to strip out the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act (EARA), which would give U.S. growers greater access to legal migrant workers.  The measure, sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Larry Craig (R-ID), is essentially a scaled down version of the bipartisan AgJOBS bill crafted through lengthy negotiations between labor and business.  The amendment to the Senate War Supplemental Appropriations Bill was endorsed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week on a 17-12 bipartisan vote, but was removed procedurally last night.

But not before an excellent Wall Street Journal editorial was published explaining EARA and supporting its inclusion in the spending bill.

The hotter this issue became in recent years, the more Congress dithered. That has had real consequences, as the agriculture labor shortage manifested itself repeatedly across the industry. Back in 2006, we saw pear crops in Northern California rot because migrant laborers couldn’t be found in sufficient numbers. Last year, a single county in western Michigan lost a million pounds of asparagus. But the more insidious problem is that the labor shortage is impacting what is planted in the first place. Or not planted.

Some growers scale back on their harvesting; a crew moves through an orchard just once to pick the best fruit, instead of moving through the land multiple times to pick nearly everything. Other growers decide to switch from producing high-value, nonsubsidized fruits and vegetables to producing low-value, highly subsidized row crops merely because the latter is less labor intensive. Still other growers are moving production offshore, reasoning that if they can’t find the labor stateside, they’ll go where labor is more plentiful. – “Farm Help Wanted,” Wall Street Journal editorial, May 21, 2008 (pay site)

Finally, the New York Times editorial blog (“The Board”) has a bit more on the outrageous story out of Texas that the Border Patrol intends to maintain immigration checkpoints even during an evacuation due to a natural disaster.

The word was out that the Border Patrol would be checking citizenship at evacuation centers, screening out illegal immigrants before evacuees boarded buses. Who cares if it’s a hurricane — it would still be “business as usual” for the Border Patrol, the agency’s local spokesman said.

Wow. That’s hard-core. Even in a country that is becoming inured to the relentless pursuit and harassment of undocumented immigrants, it is mind-boggling to consider what the spokesman, Dan Doty, was suggesting:

Winds may be howling, floodwaters rising and rescuers in McAllen and Brownsville scrambling to get 100,000 to 150,000 sick, elderly, poor and disabled people to safety as quickly as possible — but if Grandma doesn’t have her papers, she isn’t getting on the bus.  – “Hurricanes, Citizenship, and the Makings of an Unnatural Disaster, May 20, 2008

As Lou Dobbs would say, “Incredible!,” but since this is a story about the folly of the deportation-only approach to immigration, Lou probably won’t be saying anything of the kind anytime soon.

Our hearts and minds remain fixated on the health of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).  With shenanigans like this going on, we need you back, Ted, ASAP.

Crossroads Campaign Solutions