Sunday, December 30, 2007

INB 12/30/07: Detainee Killed in Workplace Accident

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 32 - December 30, 2007

1. Detainee Killed in Workplace Accident
2. Raids Hit Hawai'i
3. Connecticut Nonprofit Raided
4. Vigil at NYC Detention Center
5. March, Vigil at Texas Detention Center
6. Phoenix: Pro-Immigrant Activists March
7. ICE Chief Confirmed

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On Dec. 5, Cesar Gonzales-Baeza, a Mexican immigration detainee at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, California, was electrocuted when the jackhammer he was using struck a high-voltage power line. Gonzales-Baeza was transferred to the University of Southern California Medical Center's burn unit, where he died on Dec. 7. The accident took place while Baeza and another detainee were moving fence posts as part of a voluntary program that allows detainees to earn $1 a day or extra visiting hours in exchange for performing kitchen, janitorial or other light work.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said in a written statement that Gonzalez Baeza suffered a "serious electrical shock while he was performing maintenance duties as part of a volunteer work crew." The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Department of Homeland Security are investigating the death, said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice. Kice declined to comment on why Baeza was working with a jackhammer.

Baeza's wife, Judith Gonzales, said authorities have provided little information about the accident. "This has been very hard for us," Gonzalez said. "I never expected something like this to happen because he was detained." Greg Moreno, an attorney for Gonzales-Baeza's family, said, "We want to know who was supervising this work and how it is that no one knew about the power line." Gonzales-Baeza, a legal permanent resident, had been picked up on a traffic violation and detained for 10 months while appealing his deportation, Moreno said. "This shouldn't have happened," Moreno said. "This is a man who should have been bonded out. He was a hardworking man, a father of two young boys. He wasn't a threat to society or anyone else. And now he is dead."

Gonzales-Baeza's death is believed to be the first workplace-related death involving an immigration detainee. [Most facilities do not allow immigration detainees to work.] "Typically, all the deaths we know about have involved medical issues," said Paul Wright, who runs Prison Legal News, a newsletter geared toward prisoners, lawyers and rights activists. At least 70 people have died while in federal immigration custody since fiscal 2004.

Despite questions surrounding Gonzales-Baeza's death, on Dec. 11 Los Angeles county supervisors unanimously approved a request from the County Sheriff's Department to spend $10 million to double the bed space at the Mira Loma facility. In November, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to pay the county $51 million to house 1,400 immigrants at Mira Loma, according to the contract obtained by the Los Angeles Daily Journal. County officials charge the Department of Homeland Security $100 a day to house a detainee, according to the county documents. Plans to expand Mira Loma come just months after the immigration detention center in San Pedro, also in Los Angeles County, was shut down temporarily by federal officials. ICE officials denied the agency plans to expand the detention contract at Mira Loma. "ICE has not entered into a contract at this time to add beds at the facility," Kice said in a written statement. [Los Angeles Daily Journal 12/21/07]


Early on Dec. 19, armed ICE agents with search warrants raided a warehouse in the Hawala district of Honolulu, Hawai'i and arrested 11 workers for allegedly being present in the US without permission. Later the same morning, ICE agents raided a construction site for a luxury condominium in downtown Honolulu, conducting floor-by-floor searches and arresting eight workers. Wayne Wills, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigation in Hawai'i, declined to say who owned the warehouse or give further details about the raids. "We're working with the US Attorney's Office to look at additional charges," he said. The 19 people arrested were taken to the Federal Detention Center near the Honolulu airport.

"The aggressive law enforcement crackdown is highly unusual in the local construction industry given the multiethnic composition of the local workforce," said Pacific Resource Partnership, an organization of contractors and the 7,600-member Hawai'i Carpenters Union, in a statement praising the arrests. Partnership executive director Kyle Chock. said his organization was told the arrested workers are Hispanic and Chinese. "Companies that knowingly break the law by exploiting workers and creating slave conditions are simply unacceptable," said Chock. The Pinnacle condominium construction site is a nonunion location with a small crew of fewer than 50 workers, according to Chock. Partnership officials have been in contact with federal and local authorities about allegations of unauthorized workers, safety issues and unpaid wages, Chock said. [Honolulu Advertiser 12/20/07; Pacific Business News (Honolulu) 12/20/07; (Honolulu) 12/20/07; Honolulu Star-Bulletin 12/20/07]


On Dec. 13, over a dozen agents from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies raided the office of the nonprofit Community Action Agency in New Haven, Connecticut, which helps poor residents file applications for help with their heating bills from the federally- financed Connecticut Energy Assistance Program. According to Community Action Agency president Amos Smith, the agents had a warrant demanding all documents from 2003 onward. The raid continued until past 3am on Dec. 14; agents took away as many as 90 boxes of documents and three computers from the office. Smith said the agents asked staff members if they had been instructed to accept applications from immigrants without legal status. The raid was apparently sparked by an employee's complaint--filed last June with the office of state attorney general Richard Blumenthal and in September with federal agencies including HHS--that ineligible immigrants had been receiving energy assistance through the nonprofit. [New York Times 12/18/07]


On Dec. 13, over 100 people (50 according to the Village Voice) braved the freezing rain to take part in an interfaith candlelight vigil outside the Varick Street service processing center in downtown Manhattan, New York City, where ICE processes immigrant detainees. The pro-immigrant vigil was hosted by the New York City New Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of 19 churches that have banded together to protect and assist families facing deportation. Organizers said they were seeking to remind the public that the Varick Street processing center is often the first stop for New Yorkers who are ultimately deported and separated from their families. "People do get deported straight from Varick Street, or held here for 48 hours before being sent upstate or to New Jersey," said Angad Bhalla, a New Sanctuary organizer. "We just wanted to highlight what is happening right downtown in a building we all pass by all the time." Seven people from a group calling itself New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement (NY ICE) held a counter-demonstration, yelling insults at the crowd. [Report from the Varick Street Vigil by Juan Carlos Ruiz of New Sanctuary Movement 12/18/07; Village Voice 12/18/07]

Vigil participants included several workers who had just lost their jobs at FreshDirect, a grocery-delivery service, because they couldn't comply with the company's Dec. 9 order requiring them to prove they were authorized to work [see INB 12/16/07]. Labor leaders accused the company of using the new requirement as a tool to intimidate workers and keep them from joining a union. [Village Voice 12/18/07] In a secret ballot vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 22 and 23, 80% of the 530 participating workers at FreshDirect voted against joining either of the two unions that were competing to represent them. [New York Times 12/24/07]


On Dec. 16, some 100 activists marched from downtown Taylor, Texas, to the T. Don Hutto immigrant prison at the outskirts of town, which holds families with children facing deportation. At sundown, the activists lit candles and held a vigil, then attempted to deliver holiday toys and wrapping paper into the lobby of the prison as gifts for the detainees. "Free the Children, Now!" chanted the crowd, led by Jaime Martinez, National Treasurer of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). "Close Hutto Down!" Over more than a dozen protests in the past year, security guards have generally stopped protesters from crossing a line onto prison grounds, but this time the protesters were allowed to deliver their gifts, and prison officials appeared to be processing the toys for distribution to the detaineees. The protest was co- sponsored by LULAC and Texans United for Families (TUFF). According to Sherry Dana, an activist from Georgetown, Texas, as of Dec. 14 the Hutto prison held 142 detainees: 13 men, 55 women, 31 boys and 43 girls. The number of detainees can change on a daily basis. [Counterpunch 12/17/07]

On Dec. 18, activists commemorated International Migrants Day with a candlelight vigil in downtown Dallas, Texas. The vigil urged an end to raids against immigrants and the closure of the Hutto prison. [AP 12/18/07]


On Dec. 19, about 100 immigrant rights activists marched six miles from Pruitt's Home Furnishings in Phoenix, Arizona, to City Hall to protest Mayor Phil Gordon's decision to end a policy that restricts Phoenix police officers from asking people about their immigration status during routine encounters. The march took place on the day of the last City Council meeting of the year; 25 activists entered City Hall to urge the Council to oppose the policy change. "I implore you to maintain the policy so the immigrant community can maintain trust of the police," Rev. Liana Rowe of Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona told the City Council. About 30 anti-immigrant activists held a counter-protest outside City Hall.

Activist Salvador Reza, who organized the march, accused Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of trying to intimate marchers by sending deputies to patrol areas along the route. A Sheriff's Department van with a billboard on the side that said "stop illegal immigration" trailed protesters most of the way along the march route. Sheriff's deputies arrested nine people in traffic stops near Pruitt's; seven of those arrested turned out to be undocumented immigrants, according to sheriff's department spokesperson Paul Chagolla. Arpaio is a vocal opponent of out-of-status immigrants and has had a number of his deputies trained to act as immigration officers. [Arizona Republic 12/19/07; 12/20/07]

Pruitt's has been the site of weekly protests by rights advocates and supporters of day laborers and counter- protests by anti-immigrant activists. [AR 12/19/07] Reza started bringing protesters to Pruitt's to pressure the store's owner to stop paying off-duty sheriff's deputies to patrol his parking lot. Reza said the off-duty deputies have arrested and deported 65 immigrants in the area so far. "In essence, you have a private individual being able to implement US immigration laws," Reza said. "That's very dangerous and it cannot be tolerated." Reza said his group will continue to protest outside Pruitt's and boycott the store until the owner replaces the sheriff's deputies with private security guards, who do not have the power to deport people. [AP 12/21/07]


On Dec. 19, the Senate confirmed Julie L. Myers as director of ICE, two years after President George W. Bush used a recess appointment to assign her to the position. Myers was among more than 30 people whose appointments were approved by a voice vote of the Senate as it concluded its session before the holidays. Her appointment was questioned recently after she gave the "most original" costume award to a white employee who came to the ICE Halloween party dressed as an escaped prisoner with dreadlocks and darkened skin. Myers apologized for the incident after it drew complaints of racial insensitivity. [AP 12/20/07]


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