WASHINGTON — Mike Graves, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1149, testified today before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law about heavy handed tactics by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who raided the Swift Company packing plant in Marshalltown, Ia., where he works.
“”I’m a U.S. Citizen, born in Iowa,”” Graves said. “”Yet, ICE agents treated me as a criminal. They detained me for eight hours. There was no legitimate reason. There was no probable cause. Our plant – our workplace – was transformed into a prison. We were turned into prisoners because we went to work that day.””
On December 12, 2006, thousands of meatpacking workers-including citizens, legal residents and immigrants in the process of legalization-were swept up in ICE raids at six meat packing plants across the country. The UFCW represents workers at five of the plants including Worthington, Minn.; Greeley, Colo.; Cactus, Tex.; Marshalltown, Ia.; and Grand Island, Neb.
“”What happened to me – and to thousands of other U.S. citizens and legal residents on that December day – was a complete violation of our rights,”” Graves testified. “”It can happen at any workplace – at any time – in this country if we do not do something now to change the way these immigration raids are conducted.””
Unfortunately, Graves’ story was not an isolated incident. Many innocent workers at the plant were detained in handcuffs during the raids. Others were shipped out on buses. Families, schools and daycare centers could not be contacted to make arrangements for the children of detained workers. Families were left divided and scared-not knowing where or when they might see a missing family member again.
In September 2007, the UFCW filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas naming Michael Chertoff of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Julie Myers of ICE as defendants. The suit calls for an injunction against the excessive, illegal and unnecessary worksite raids conducted by ICE agents.
In addition to the lawsuit, the UFCW recently announced the formation of a national commission to examine the policies and practices of enforcement actions by ICE. The commission will gather independent information and analysis through a series of regional public hearings that will explore the execution, implications and ramifications of workplace raids. It will also look into claims that ICE, in the conduct of raids, has engaged in violations of law. The commission is made up of a broad group of leading experts from across the country, including former elected officials, academics and public policy specialists. The first hearing will be held on February, 25, 2008.
“”We have seen federal agents routinely violate the 4th Amendment rights of workers during massive workplace raids across the country,”” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President. “”Until national leaders fix our country’s immigration system, our local communities will be torn apart, and the constitutional rights of citizens and legal residents will be routinely violated. Our country desperately requires a framework for moving forward, humanely and comprehensively, to fix our immigration system.””