Sunday, August 26, 2007

INB 8/26/07: Smithfield Raid, Elvira Deported, Detainee Deaths

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 20 - August 26, 2007

1. 168 on Africa Deport Flight
2. New Raid at Smithfield Pork Plant
3. ICE Deports Sanctuary Activist
4. Detainees Protest as Deaths Mount

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499;

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On Aug. 15, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 168 African immigrants on a special deportation charter flight out of Niagara Falls, New York. The deportees included 104 Nigerians, 40 Ghanaians and 24 Liberians being returned to their countries of origin; 96 of them had criminal records. The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS) flight was the largest such flight to Africa in two years. The deportees had been moved from facilities across the country to the Batavia Federal Detention Facility in preparation for the flight. ICE staffed the flight with ICE Detention and Removal officers, Public Health Service medical staff personnel, consular officers from Nigeria and Ghana and a member of the Nigerian High Commission based in Canada. [ICE News Release 8/16/07]


Before dawn on Aug. 22, ICE agents swept up 15 men and 13 women in the area around Tar Heel, North Carolina, in what it called "targeted arrests" for alleged identity theft. Most of those detained were current or former workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel, the world's largest pork processing plant. Eight workers were arrested inside the plant; the others were arrested in homes at trailer parks and other sites in Bladen, Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson counties. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which has been trying to organize the plant for more than a decade, agents tore mothers from their children while arresting workers at their homes.

Two of the arrested workers were from Guatemala, one was from Honduras and the rest were Mexican. The women are being detained in a jail in Mecklenburg County, while the men are at a prison in Alamance County, according to ICE spokesperson Richard Rocha. None has been charged, but Rocha said they face federal criminal prosecution for allegedly using stolen identities to get jobs at the Smithfield plant. [Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia) 8/23/07; 8/23/07 from; Fayetteville Observer 8/24/07]

Smithfield spokesperson Dennis Pittman said ICE "had the names of the people they wanted" in advance. "When [the workers] came in, we directed them to the office where ICE agents were waiting. We found out whom [ICE agents] wanted a few days before they came in, but we're not allowed to announce it. We couldn't even tell the rest of our staff here." Pittman said the raid didn't draw much attention. "Most of our folks didn't even know it happened until they saw it in media reports," he said. [ 8/23/07]

Last Jan. 24, ICE agents arrested 21 workers at the Smithfield plant [see INB 2/4/07]. On Nov. 16, 2006, about 1,000 of the plant's 5,000 employees walked out after Smithfield fired 75 people in a crackdown on workers whose Social Security numbers didn't match federal records. The walkout ended two days later when Smithfield agreed to give workers 60 days to get their documents in order [see INB 11/17/06, 11/24/06]. When that time expired, Smithfield officials said about 300 workers left their jobs.

"Work site law enforcement and other ICE actions around identity and immigration issues are a symptom of a failed immigration system, and no substitute for comprehensive reform," the UFCW said in a statement. "They represent a form of political theater that ends in real human tragedy--the devastation of communities, breakup of families and the defilement of fundamental American values." [AP 8/23/07]

Jobs with Justice has launched a campaign to stop the worksite raids. To send a protest fax to President George W. Bush and ICE chief Julie Myers, see


On the afternoon of Aug. 19, ICE agents arrested activist Elvira Arellano on a city street in downtown Los Angeles and deported her to Tijuana, Mexico within hours. Arellano became an activist shortly after she was arrested in 2002 during a federal sweep at O'Hare International Airport, where she cleaned airplanes. She gained national fame when she took sanctuary in a Chicago church on Aug. 15, 2006, in an effort to avoid being deported away from her US-born son Saul, now eight years old. Her activism has since spurred churches around the US to initiate what they are calling a "new sanctuary movement" to defend immigrants and end deportations, especially those that separate immigrant parents from their US-born children.

"She has been deported. She is free and in Tijuana," said Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, which had provided sanctuary to Arellano. "She is in good spirits. She is ready to continue the struggle against the separation of families from the other side of the border." [Chicago Tribune 8/20/07] "I have a fighting spirit, and I'm going to continue to fight," Arellano said on Aug. 24 outside the apartment in Tijuana where she is living with a friend. Arellano told reporters in Mexico that Saul is in Chicago in the care of his godmother and will attend a Sept. 12 rally for immigration reform in Washington. [AP 8/25/07]

In a news conference on Aug. 15, the one-year anniversary of her sanctuary, Arellano had announced she would leave the Adalberto church and travel to Washington for an 8-hour prayer and fast vigil on Sept. 12. She kept secret her plans to go first to other cities to build momentum for the vigil.

Arellano left Chicago on Aug. 16 and arrived in Los Angeles on Aug. 18 for the first stop in that campaign, which coincided with a local immigration march. On Aug. 19 she urged audiences of several hundred parishioners inside four separate churches to lobby House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other congressional members from California to take up immigration reform immediately after returning from summer recess. [Los Angeles Times 8/16/07; CT 8/20/07]

"It's important that we are unified so that we can bring out the message that we're all struggling together," Arellano said at the Angelica Lutheran Church in Los Angeles' Pico-Union neighborhood. "The hate you are seeing build around the country has no boundaries."

ICE officers arrested Arellano as she and her supporters were leaving Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles. The agents stopped the vehicle Arellano, Saul and their supporters were traveling in, handcuffed the driver and ordered Arellano to get out, said Chicago activist Emma Lozano, who was with Arellano. Before surrendering, Arellano asked for time alone to console her crying son, telling him: "Calm down. Don't have any fear. They can't hurt me," Lozano said. The entire incident lasted about two minutes, she said. The driver was released. [CT 8/20/07]

On Aug. 25, immigrant rights activists marched through downtown Los Angeles in support of Arellano. "It's an effort by all immigrant rights groups to come together and re-energize the whole movement, in solidarity with Elvira," said college student Marylou Cabral. Some marchers carried large photos of Arellano and her Saul, while others raised placards reading "We are all Elvira!" Organizers said over 2,000 demonstrated, while police put the crowd at closer to 600. [AP 8/25/07] Vigils and marches in solidarity with Arellano were also held in Chicago and Houston. [Houston Indymedia 8/21/07; Chicago Tribune 8/21/07]


On Aug. 9, 98 detainees at the federal immigration detention center in San Pedro, California refused to return to Pod 5 in an act of peaceful protest for health and dignity in their living conditions. Over 100 police, immigration and Coast Guard officials responded with threats and aggression against the protesters, according to activists from the Los Angeles-based group Homies Unidos, which organized support for the detainees. Homies Unidos activists said Coast Guard snipers armed with M-16s were on the roof of the detention center and in boats surrounding the facility during the protest, and one detainee was beaten by guards. Detainees' demands included adequate and nutritional meals; proper clothing; adequate medical treatment; respect and dignity; an end to persistent overcrowding; provision of necessary hygiene supplies; timely processing of their immigration cases; and recreation equipment to ensure
mental and physical health. [Homies Unidos Media Alert 8/12/07 & Email Alert 8/14/07]

The protest came not long after the July 20 death of transsexual detainee Victoria Arellano (whose legal name was Victor Arellano) at the San Pedro facility. Arellano, who had AIDS, was detained in May for entering the US illegally for a second time. During detention in San Pedro, attorneys said, she did not receive treatment for her medical conditions. As she vomited blood, fellow inmates cared for her in vain. She was eventually taken to a San Pedro hospital and died while shackled to a bed, an attorney for the family said.

Arellano's was the first in a recent string of detainee deaths. Rosa Isela Contreras-Dominguez, a legal US resident from Mexico who was seven weeks pregnant, died about a week after entering ICE custody in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 1. She had been detained by ICE for deportation after serving an 18-month prison sentence for bringing marijuana into the US. Contreras was taken to an emergency room immediately after notifying medical staff that she suffered from blood clotting. Later, after complaining of pain in her leg, she was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Brazilian immigrant Edmar Alves Araujo died after being taken into federal custody on Aug. 7 in Rhode Island. His sister, Irene, said she tried to hand over his seizure medication to the police who detained him for a traffic violation in Woonsocket, but they refused to take it. ICE spokesperson Marc Raimondi said ICE officials called emergency medical technicians when Araujo showed signs of distress shortly after they detained him. [Washington Post 8/15/07]

A mysterious illness killed two detainees and hospitalized two others at a detention center in Del Rio, Texas. The first detainee became ill in mid- to late July, according to Dr. Sandra Guerra-Cantu, regional medical director of the Texas Department of State Health Services, who is investigating. The privately operated 850-bed medium-security facility holds federal detainees for ICE and the US Marshals Service as well as local prisoners. One of the prisoners who died and both of those hospitalized were ICE detainees from Mexico or Honduras. No autopsy has yet been performed on either of the men who died. [San Antonio Express-News 8/9/07]

On Aug. 11, some 300 immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington became ill from suspected food poisoning. About 180 detainees were treated for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting at the detention center's clinic. [Seattle Times 8/15/07]

Before the latest deaths, immigration officials acknowledged that at least 62 people had died in ICE custody since 2004. The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security is investigating two detainee deaths, in New Mexico and Minnesota. In a report issued last December, the inspector general noted that four of the five immigration detention facilities it studied had "instances of non-compliance" regarding health care, "including timely initial and responsive medical care." [WP 8/15/07]

On June 13, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrant detainees at San Diego Correctional Facility, charging that inadequate medical and mental health care have caused unnecessary suffering and, in several cases, avoidable death. The suit names ICE and the Division of Immigrant Health Services among the defendants. "We've been saying for a long time now that we have serious concerns about the medical care provided to individuals in detention," said Tom Jawetz, a staff lawyer for the ACLU's National Prison Project. "It's been a closed system for far too long. People are going to continue to die unless changes are made," Jawetz said. [WP 8/15/07; ACLU Press Release 6/13/07] On June 27, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain information about the nature of the 62 deaths of immigrant detainees which ICE admits have taken place since 2004. [ACLU Press Release 6/27/07]


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