Friday, June 13, 2008

PUSH TO PROSECUTE LEAVES IMMIGRANT VICTIMS WITHOUT PROTECTION

NEW AMERICA MEDIA Immigrants who have been trafficked or abused by employers usually enjoy the protection of the U.S. government. But if the recent immigration raids at a Postville, Iowa meat-packing plant are any indication, that might be a thing of the past. Now those workers face deportation instead.

In May, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid took place at an Iowa kosher meat-packing plant. It was the largest raid ever. Nearly 400 employees at Agriprocessors were rounded up and interrogated by immigration officials. The search warrant executed by ICE also laid out a range of workplace abuses, including physical abuse. According to the government’s own warrant: "In February, Source #7 told ICE agents he or she observed a Jewish floor supervisor duct-tape the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker shut and hit the Guatemalan with a meat hook."

Additional allegations of sexual abuse towards female workers were reported in the Des Moines Register. According to Sister Mary McCauley, a Roman Catholic nun at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, "workers said that there was sexual abuse, that there’s propositioning. Specifically, if a worker wanted, say, a promotion or a shift change, they’d be brought into a room with three or four men and it was like, ‘Which one do you want? Which one are you going to serve?’"

If the government warrant itself outlined abuse, the workers should have been eligible for protected status. However, they were treated as criminals, not victims.

In another case in Louisiana, Indian workers were trafficked to the United States and housed in substandard conditions while their wages were held back, in order to pay back the $20,000 they were charged to come the United States to work at Signal Construction in New Orleans. After they walked out on their jobs en masse, the Department of Justice opened a trafficking investigation case acknowledging their victimization, yet refusing to protect them.

In past cases similar to Signal Construction, "continued presence" was automatically granted, allowing the workers to stay on in the United States while the case went ahead. According to Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Continued presence is discretionary on the part of the Department of Justice, but people used to get processed on the spot. This delay is a new thing." The lawyers representing the Indian workers have been told they must submit their clients for deportation hearings.

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