Sunday, August 10, 2008

INB 8/10/08: Union Protests Arrests in Pennsylvania

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 18 - August 10, 2008

1. Pennsylvania: Union Protests Arrests
2. March Protests Postville Raid
3. Farmworkers Arrested in Hawaii
4. Ohio Restaurants Raided
5. Raid at Arkansas Boat Manufacturer

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On July 31, ABM Janitorial Services Inc. lured 42 of its employees to its office in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in the suburbs just northwest of Philadelphia, where US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were waiting to arrest them for immigration violations. The company had sent the workers a memo telling them to attend a 4:30pm meeting at the offices for training and discussion on new policy procedure, according to Kate Ferranti, a spokesperson for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represented most of the workers. The employees that attended the meeting were promised one hour of overtime, and were told that they could pick up their weekly paychecks at the beginning of the training; they were warned that if they did not attend, their paychecks would be withheld and they could face disciplinary actions, including termination.

According to union shop steward Rob Houston, once all the workers had gathered in a large room, ABM personnel left the room and ICE officers walked in. Houston, who is white, and several others were allowed to leave. Outside the room, Houston said, he heard an ICE agent telling someone that Houston and others who were allowed to leave were "not it."

ICE agents released 22 of the 42 workers the same day for 'humanitarian' reasons, such as health conditions and child care, ICE spokesperson Mike Gilhooly said. Those 22 workers, mostly mothers with young children, were strapped with tracking devices and placed under house arrest. At least five other female workers were taken to a detention facility in Clinton, Pennsylvania, while at least 13 male workers were taken to York County Prison. All 42 workers face deportation proceedings. ICE reportedly confiscated workers' documents issued by the Mexican government, including passports. A woman who had her Mexican passport confiscated said she wants to process her children's documents for her family's imminent departure from this country and now has no legal documentation to prove her identity.

According to Gilhooly, the arrests were planned after federal agents audited ABM's records and found that the workers had gained employment through fraudulent documents. Gilhooly said ABM was not at fault and has fully cooperated. Sources claim ICE gave ABM two options: gather the employees at one location or agents would arrest them at their work sites.

Nine of the detained worked as janitors in the county courthouse and at One Montgomery Plaza, a building of office suites acquired by the county in 2006, said County Communications Director John Corcoran. The county accepted ABM Janitorial Services's low bid of $242,016 for cleaning services in March 2007, and extended its contract for one year in February. Corcoran said that if the county commissioners' office "were to find out later that" ABM wasn't cooperating with authorities in the investigation, "then we would terminate the contract."

Local 32BJ organized a rally on Aug. 5 in front of St. Patrick's Church on DeKalb Street in Norristown to protest the arrests and show solidarity with the workers. On Aug. 7 a crowd of 150 people, including members of Local 32BJ and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, attended a second rally on the Montgomery County courthouse steps in Norristown. "We find that ABM's decision to lead their workers to that room under false pretenses to be deplorable," Wayne MacManiman, Mid-Atlantic director of Local 32BJ, said at the Aug. 7 rally. [Philadelphia Inquirer 8/8/08; Norristown Times Herald 8/6/08, 8/8/08]


More than 1,000 people, including Latin American immigrants, Catholic clergy members, rabbis and activists, marched through Postville, Iowa on July 27 and rallied at the entrance to the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant, where ICE arrested 389 workers on May 12 [see INB 6/2/08]. The march was called to protest working conditions in the plant and to call on Congress to pass legislation granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants. Hundreds of demonstrators came by bus from Chicago and Minneapolis. Four rabbis from Minnesota and Wisconsin attended the march to publicize proposals to revise kosher food certification to include standards of corporate ethics and treatment of workers. The march drew an anti-immigrant counterprotest by about 100 people, organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Police reported no incidents. [New York Times 7/28/08; Des Moines Register 7/28/08]

On July 24, the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held a hearing in Washington to consider whether the 389 workers prosecuted on criminal charges during the Agriprocessors raid had been denied due process. Committee members grilled representatives of ICE and the Department of Justice and heard from experts including Erik Camayd-Freixas, who worked as a certified translator during the legal proceedings that followed the Agriprocessors raid, and David Leopold, national vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who called the way the workers were forced into plea bargains "a national disgrace." A standing room-only crowd was on hand when the hearing opened. It was followed by a news conference that included Postville priest Paul Ouderkirk and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) president Joe Hansen. [Jewish Telegraphic Agency 7/25/08; Committee on the Judiciary Press Release 7/23/08]

On July 26, three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus visited Postville and heard three hours of testimony from dozens of workers and community members affected by the raid. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Joe Baca (D-CA) listened as 17-year-old Gilda Yolanda Ordonez Lopez described being forced to work 12-hour shifts at Agriprocessors with no overtime pay, and as Adolpho Wilson explained how his hand was crushed in an accident involving a meat grinding machine at the plant. [AP 7/26/08]

On July 31, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Justice Department officials had assembled a manual in advance of the Agriprocessors raid which appeared designed to speed up the process of obtaining guilty pleas from the arrested Agriprocessors workers on identity theft and related charges. The manual lays out the suggested pleas for the workers, specifies how they should waive their legal rights, and includes detailed scripts for judges and lawyers. Of the 306 workers who were criminally charged, 297 took the plea bargains in order to avoid more serious aggravated identity theft charges which carry a minimum two-year sentence. Refusing the guilty plea would have meant more time in jail awaiting trial. "The government's tactics really undermined the constitutional protections of due process and presumption of innocence," ACLU staff attorney Monica Ramirez noted. [Los Angeles Times 8/1/08] In a widely circulated essay, Camayd-Freixas, the court translator, wrote: "'Knowingly' and 'intent' are necessary elements of the charges, but most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security number was or what purpose it served." [New America Media 7/11/08]


On July 20, ICE agents entered an apartment building in Waipahu, Hawaii, with nine federal search warrants. The agents arrested 43 men from Mexico who were allegedly working in Hawaii without legal status. The workers were employed by an agricultural business in Kunia called "The Farms." ICE agents were assisted in the operation by the US Marshals Service, Sheriff's Department-State of Hawaii and the US Coast Guard Investigative Service. Fifteen of the 43 arrested men were subsequently charged with federal felonies for having used fraudulent documents to gain employment. Assistant US Attorney Tracy Hino said the investigation was continuing to determine if any of the other 28 workers might be charged. All are being held at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. [KHON 2 News (Honolulu) 7/22/08; AP 7/22/08; Honolulu Star Bulletin 8/4/08]

Gary Singh, an attorney for one of the arrested men, said his client was recruited in California to work in Hawaii. Singh said the employer paid the airfare and arranged for housing at the Waipahu apartment complex, where eight men shared a two-bedroom apartment. Singh said his client worked 45 to 50 hours a week with no overtime, earning $9 an hour, with $98 deducted for rent from each two-week paycheck.

According to Hino, the investigation was triggered by the arrest of Miguel Gonzalez, another employee of The Farms, at Honolulu Airport on Mar. 3 as he sought to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, California. A Transportation Security Administration agent noticed that his boarding pass had a different name from his green card, according to court documents. Investigators also found two pay stubs from The Farms Inc., court papers said. Gonzalez later pleaded guilty to using false documents to obtain work and was sentenced to time served. In April, agents asked The Farms to provide the I-9 forms for its employees, according to court papers. The company provided the documents in May. [HSB 8/4/08]

Dean Okimoto of the Hawaii Farm Bureau said many local farmers have trouble finding workers to do hard farm labor at a price they can afford. [KHON 2 News 7/22/08]


On July 23, ICE agents arrested 58 Mexican workers on administrative immigration violations after executing federal search warrants at eight Casa Fiesta restaurants in Ashland, Fremont, Norwalk, Oberlin, Oregon, Sandusky, Vermillion, and Youngstown, Ohio. The operation culminated a yearlong investigation. Those arrested included four women, three of whom were released on humanitarian grounds to await deportation hearings. [ICE News Release 7/23/08]

By Aug. 6, 23 of the arrested immigrants had been deported, according to ICE spokesperson Greg Palmore. Palmore gave the total number of immigrants arrested in the operation as 54. [Fremont News Messenger 8/6/08]

Students and community members in Oberlin planned to march on July 31 to the closed Casa Fiesta restaurant and hold a vigil there to protest the raids and express solidarity with the detained workers. Organizers of the protest included the Catholic Action Committee of Lorain County. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 7/31/08]


On July 23, ICE agents arrested 13 men from Guatemala and Mexico in a raid at Waco Manufacturing, a company in North Little Rock, Arkansas that makes pontoon boats for Aloha Pontoons. US Attorney Jane Duke said the investigation was sparked when ICE agents received a tip that the business employed unauthorized workers. Duke said Aloha Pontoons cooperated with the investigation. Duke said if the men pleaded guilty to criminal charges, they would likely be sentenced to time served and deported. [AP 7/25/08]

In a news release dated July 28, ICE reported that on July 25, all 13 of the arrested workers "were convicted for document fraud and misuse of Social Security cards" and handed over to the custody of the US Marshals Service. On July 28, the workers were to be transferred to the ICE Office of Detention and Removal and placed in removal proceedings. The raid was conducted with the assistance of special agents from the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General. [ICE News Release 7/28/08]


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