US Catholic Faith in Real Life

New report claims ICE raids impeded labor law enforcement

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Over a year ago, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raided the largest kosher meat packing plant in the country, Agriprocessors. Inc.of Postville, Iowa. It is now in court answering for its immigration violations.

Protests erupted quickly over ICE’s conduct of the raid – splitting families without providing for the workers’ children – and the rushed and unclear processing of detainees in a cattle pen at the Waterloo, Iowa fairgrounds. But it soon became clear that Agriprocessor also had a reputation as a bad employer – cheating workers on hours and wages, hiring under-aged workers, and allowing them to handle dangerous machinery. It was being investigated by federal and state agencies. The raid stymied them a bit, but Agriprocessors will still have answer for its sins. 

The Associated Press highlights a new report by the AFL-CIO, the National Employment Law Project, and the American Rights at Work Education Fund that accuses ICE of a "single-minded focus on immigration enforcement” that impeded thorough investigation of federal and state labor laws violations at this and other plants. Some of the other plants were suspected not only of abuses similar to Agriprocessors', but also of firing workers for trying to form a union. 

ICE’s predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) before the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, carried on its share of raids but was in communication with other federal and state agencies so as not to impede their investigations. The report asks a return to better communications. Often employers who hire the undocumented do so expecting a docile and easily intimidated work force. Too many employers are known to handle “trouble-makers” by firing them and then handing them over to ICE. The Obama administration has pledged to reduce the raids, and their consequent hardships on families, and to go after unscrupulous, law-breaking employers instead. The Labor Department has also promised to enforce labor laws more vigorously than in the Bush administration.

L.A. police chief does not think police should enforce immigration laws

Congress had authorized a program – 287(g) – that allowed immigration enforcement agencies to recruit the assistance of local law enforcement to cooperate in the streets and the jails to identify criminal aliens and scofflaws for deportation. Local police were slow to sign up, but one of the first and most energetic was Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Now the program has over 67 local law enforcement agencies contracted. Ironically, Homeland Security will not renew its contract with Sheriff Joe on “street enforcement” (see Arizona Republic article).

Many cities refused to join the program and instead forbade their police – to varying degrees – to ask people about immigration status. The most notable, and often controversial, was Los Angeles' Special Order 40. Retiring Police Chief William J. Bratton, who was also boss of the Boston and New York police departments, has urged his successor to support the policy. His reasons are more administrative than moral – immigration is not the job of the police; there are more urgent needs of the police resources; etc. But his chief argument is that, if the police are seen in the immigrant community as the enforcer, they will not be trusted as a protector (see Bratton’s opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times).