Monday, December 17, 2007

INB 12/16/07: Hartford March; NYC Workers Fired; More Raids

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 31 ‑ December 16, 2007

1. Hartford: Marchers Protest Raids
2. NYC: Fresh Direct Workers Fired
3. Arkansas Restaurants Raided
4. NM: Frozen Foods Plant Raided

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; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


On Dec. 10, some 150 people marched to the federal building in Hartford, Connecticut, to demand an end to immigration raids. Activists were upset about the arrest of 21 Brazilian immigrants in early November in the city's Parkville neighborhood in a joint operation between local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents [see INB 11/4/07, which reported that nine people had been arrested as of Nov. 2]. Local police said they had asked ICE to help them search for a Brazilian man being sought on attempted murder and robbery charges. They didn't find the suspect, but ICE picked up 21 other people suspected of being in the US without permission.

The march was sponsored by more than a dozen organizations, including Stop the Raids, a Trinity College‑based group; People of Faith; and the Connecticut chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Luis Cotto and Larry Deutsch, elected to the Hartford city council in November as members of the Working Families Party, both attended the march and said they would push for policies that limit when local police can inquire about immigration status. [Hartford Courant 12/11/07]


On Dec. 9 and 10, FreshDirect, an online grocery delivery business operating in New York City, sent its workers a memo saying that ICE planned to inspect the records of every employee and asking them to provide proof that they are authorized to work in the US. At least 40 workers at the company's warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, subsequently quit or were suspended because they could not produce such proof. Officials from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, which is seeking to organize some 900 of the company's warehouse workers, said many FreshDirect employees were so frightened of being detained and separated from their children that they stayed home on Dec. 12. Others said they were told not to come back. "Some people just walked out the door," said Sandy Pope, president of Teamsters Local 805. "They were sobbing, with garbage bags full of their clothes from their lockers. They didn't feel they had any chance of fixing their paperwork, so they just left."

According to Pope, some employees were warned by company officials not to show up for their paychecks. She said the union was scrambling to find clergy members or other volunteers to collect paychecks for workers who feared going back to the warehouse.

Pope said on Dec. 12 that the suspensions seemed to be an effort to thwart the union, and that the company's lawyers might have invited ICE to scrutinize employment documents in an effort to weaken the union drive. ICE spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, "I would categorically deny that that's the case." Jim Moore, the FreshDirect senior vice president for business affairs, called the claim outrageous.

FreshDirect officials said in a statement that they were trying to comply with the government's request and keep their employees informed about the investigation. Moore said the company had asked ICE officials to delay their audit until after the holidays, but the agency refused. [New York Times 12/13/07] The warehouse workers are scheduled to vote on Dec. 22 and 23 on whether to affiliate with the Teamsters local or with Local 348 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which already represents about 500 drivers, helpers and delivery workers at FreshDirect. The workers may also choose not to join a union. The company has actively discouraged its employees from joining the Teamsters. [NYT 12/12/07 (online), 12/13/07]

The Teamsters organized a demonstration outside the warehouse in Queens on Dec. 11 to protest the company's actions. "We are going to file charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, because we strongly believe this was done to scare the workers into voting no," said Pope, the local union president. [WNYC 12/12/07]

FreshDirect had no problem with its employees' paperwork before they expressed a desire to organize, notes the Teamsters union, which is urging labor rights activists to support the workers by sending letters to company officials through its website: [Teamsters alert, "Tell FreshDirect: Stop Threatening Workers," undated]


On Dec. 10, ICE agents raided four Mexican restaurants of the local Acambaro chain in Benoton and Washington counties in northwest Arkansas and two sites of a related business in Benton County, Garcia's Distribution Co. Agents arrested four "operational managers" of the businesses‑‑Arturo Reyes, Sylvia Reyes, Armando Reyes and Lucila Huaracha‑‑on criminal charges related to harboring and employing unauthorized immigrants for financial gain, according to a news release from the US attorney's office in Fort Smith. All four are being held in local jails with ICE detainers that bar them from being bonded out of jail. ICE says all four are in the US without permission.

Another 19 people apparently employed at the raided sites were arrested on immigration violations and face deportation to Mexico and El Salvador. ICE spokesperson Temple Black said one of those arrested is a sole caretaker of children who was released on her own recognizance to make arrangements for her children's care.

A civil forfeiture complaint filed on Dec. 10 states that money laundering is also part of the investigation; federal prosecutors have already seized more than $100,000 from 15 bank accounts and are seeking forfeiture of 11 real estate properties owned by the Reyes family in Benton and Washington counties, claiming the properties were purchased with money derived from harboring and employing unauthorized workers. Acambaro and Garcia's also have locations in southwest Missouri, but those sites weren't raided. The raids were carried out by the Immigration Criminal Apprehension Task Force, formed in September and made up of ICE agents and local police in Washington and Benton counties. [Benton County Daily Record 12/11/07; Arkansas Democrat‑Gazette 12/11/07, 12/14/07, 12/15/07; Morning News (NW Arkansas) 12/12/07, 12/14/07]

Holly Dickson, attorney for the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the latest operation is not what the task force had said it would focus on. "The public has been told that this task force would be going after serious, violent criminals, but this appears to be mostly centered around undocumented workers," said Dickson. [AD‑G 12/14/07]

According to affidavits unsealed on Dec. 14, the investigation began in September 2006 after a confidential informant told authorities that Arturo Reyes was harboring and employing unauthorized immigrants at his business. Immigration officials and police then noticed that a number of the unauthorized immigrants they were arresting in other cases turned out to be Acambaro employees. They started interviewing the arrested Acambaro employees in March 2007 and used the information gained about hiring and pay practices to make a case against Arturo and Silvia Reyes. The affidavits say many of the chain's unauthorized immigrant workers were paid in cash, "off the books." [Morning News 12/14/07]


On Dec. 10, ICE agents executed a criminal search warrant at Proper Foods, a frozen foods plant in Deming, New Mexico, and arrested 21 of the company's employees on immigration violations. One of the arrested workers is Honduran; the others, including a 17‑year‑old boy, are Mexican. Of the adults arrested, 10 are women (including the Honduran) and 10 are men. Three women were released on their own recognizance and served with a notice to appear before an immigration judge. The juvenile was handed over to the care of the Mexican government. Two men and four women are being held at an immigration detention center in El Paso, Texas, to await removal proceedings. The remaining 11 workers were "voluntarily" returned to Mexico on Dec. 10, the day of the raid.

The raid followed a five‑month investigation and was carried out by agents from ICE, the Border Patrol and the Border Operations Task Force. Proper Foods owner John Johns said he was "amazed" that agents found even one unauthorized worker at his plant. "We had all the documents that are required that you are allowed to ask people for," said Johns. "It turns out some of them are fake." According to ICE, Proper Foods employs about 300 people to prepare, package and distribute tamales. [Las Cruces Sun‑News 12/12/07; Santa Fe New Mexican 12/11/07; El Paso Times 12/11/07, 12/12/07]


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