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Vol. 77/No. 36      October 14, 2013

Gov’t steps up criminalization
of immigrant workers
(front page)
The administration of President Barack Obama is stepping up measures — begun under previous administrations — to criminalize a section of the working class the government refuses to give “proper” papers to and make it harder for them to live and get jobs.

Last year Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted 3,000 I-9 immigration audits of businesses, the largest number since the agency began what it called its “bold new audit initiative” in 2009 and 12 times higher than in 2007. Over the last four years, following the audits, the government has imposed more than $100 million in fines on companies, jailed some supervisors and fired thousands of workers who couldn’t prove they are in the U.S. legally.

The agency plans to be able to conduct 10,000 annual audits by the beginning of 2014, according to the privately run website E-Verify and I-9 News.

The E-Verify program, which bosses use to tap into Homeland Security databases through the Internet to view the immigration status of potential hires, is skyrocketing. More than 475,000 companies now use E-Verify, up from 9,300 in June 2006. Already this year bosses ran the names of some 21.5 million people applying for jobs through the system.

Until recently most workers detained by the immigration cops were “voluntarily” deported, which meant they did not face felony charges if they returned to the U.S. But by 2011 most of those caught were deported under what ICE calls removals and face felony charges if they return. Immigration-related charges, mostly for “illegal entry” or “re-entry” now make up more than 40 percent of all federal prosecutions.

Big farm owners are complaining that the crackdowns have caused a shortage of farmworkers across the country, leaving as much as 10 percent of crops rotting in the fields and cutting into their profits.

When Obama and other backers of so-called immigration reform talk about bringing immigrants “out of the shadows” they are talking about the shadow the U.S. government created. That means decreasing the number of those deemed “illegal” by deporting them or pressuring them to leave the country while offering others an arduous path to some type of legal status.

The proposed immigration bill stalled in Congress, if passed, would increase the number of immigration cops on the U.S.-Mexico border, make E-Verify mandatory for all businesses and mandate stepped-up felony prosecutions for immigration “violations.”

To ensure that bosses still have a superexploitable labor force, it offers a “road to citizenship” that would require workers who apply to pay at least $2,000 in fines and fees and pass background checks to qualify for a 10-year-long provisional status. It would increase the number of “guest worker” visas issued to guarantee cheap labor for agribusiness and industry. So-called guest workers are tied to a particular employer. If they quit or are fired they are subject to immediate deportation.

Car wash raid criminalizes workers

On August 17, ICE and other federal agents raided 16 Danny’s Family Car Wash locations and offices of employment agency HR Betty in Phoenix.

ICE claims this wasn’t “an immigration enforcement operation,” but one targeting managers who were promoting “identity theft” by knowingly rehiring workers dismissed after an earlier I-9 audit. They detained 223 people, releasing 179 of those without papers. But the agency designated 30 workers for deportation on the pretext of “immigration violations.”

“To say it’s not an immigration raid is ridiculous,” Carlos Garcia, lead organizer for Puente Arizona, told the Militant during an Oct. 1 phone interview. “It was meant to cause fear in the community. It criminalizes people for working.” Puente Arizona is a community group that organizes against deportations of immigrant workers.

“They tried to make it sound like they were going after managers,” Garcia notes. “But the manager in a car wash is like those in a fast-food place, just regular working people who have to come up with a shift schedule at the end of the week. Now some of them are facing federal charges of fraud.”

Relatives and friends of the workers gathered nearby during the raid in Phoenix and shouted encouragement to those detained. Later that day Puente Arizona held a rally outside the federal courthouse to denounce the raid.

“The next day the car washes were open and the owners were making money, while we had to campaign to get them to pay the wages owed to the workers who lost their jobs,” Garcia said.

ICE did its last big factory raid in Postville, Iowa, in May 2008, detaining 389 workers, threatening many of them with identity theft charges. But workplace raids were increasingly unpopular. In many of the raids, U.S.-born workers hid their undocumented fellow workers or helped them escape. In response to Postville, Black and Caucasian workers joined protests in nearby Waterloo denouncing the raid and deportations. The U.S. government shifted to other means of controlling the flow of labor across the border.

The number of immigrants without government-issued papers fell to 11.3 million in 2009, down from a high of 12.2 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center, coinciding with the government crackdown and high unemployment from the recession.

The last time the federal government did a big immigration raid in Arizona was in 1996 or ’97, Garcia said. “But Sheriff Joseph Arpaio has done more than 80 raids since 2008, when the federal government authorized him under the 287(g) provisions,” which allow local cops to enforce federal immigration laws.

“It’s really negative that both the Democrats and Republicans are having a competition on who does this better,” Garcia said. “We don’t have any friends in the two parties in this situation.”  
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