What Mississippi ICE raids mean for vulnerable workers

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Last week, nearly 700 workers were arrested at food processing plants in Mississippi. These workers showed up day after day to a job that would help put food on the table for thousands of American families. And yet, within moments, their entire lives were upended. 

The images of children coming to terms with being torn from their parents was heartbreaking, especially for people of color and first-generation worker. These children who look like our nieces, nephews, brothers, and sisters: these children that look like us will forever be marked by the actions of the Trump administration. 

These children will not be the only ones affected.

The Washington Post has now reported that Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence is claiming these raids were part of a “textbook operation.”  We know that the Trump administration and ICE didn’t conduct the raids at random. They have been clear that these raids on immigrant workers have been planned for months. By why these poultry plants specifically?

Attempts to build worker power 

Five of the seven raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations took place at Mississippi-based plants owned by Koch Foods, one of the largest suppliers of poultry in the world. ICE reported that it used 600 of the department’s officers to arrest these workers. Almost exactly one year ago, Koch Foods settled a $3,750,000 sexual harassment and race discrimination and retaliation of Latino workers at its processing facilities.

In the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s announcement of the settlement, it is noted that “EEOC alleges that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities. Further, a class of Hispanic employees was subject to retaliation in the form of discharge and other adverse actions after complaining.” 

Given these facts, it appears that these raids were meant to send a signal to immigrant workers who fight for their rights in the workplace: show-up, shut-up, or risk being deported. These raids also appears to send a message to employers who exploit low-income, immigrant and Latinx workers: do what you want with them, if they fight you, we will retaliate.  

Workers under attack

The Trump administration has waged attacks against the working class since its January 2017 inauguration, with heinous moves like the termination of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which could force immigrant workers to seek unregulated jobs; the blocking of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces act, which puts workers in harm’s way; and the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which overwhelmingly favors corporations and the wealthy and hurts workers. 

For these reasons, the greatest threat against working people who are immigrants and people of color in the U.S. is this administration. 

How do we respond 

This is a moment for everyone who values the contributions of working people to come together. This is a moment to stand up for what we know to be right: that working people — regardless of race and immigration status — in America must be treated with dignity, respect and human rights. And yet, without our permission, our individual and corporate tax dollars are used to enable this reign of terror on our brothers and sisters in Mississippi and across the country. 

This is how we will respond:

First, funding and supporting organizations like the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and El Pueblo Immigration Rights Legal Services is key. An official fundraising page has been set up to get dollars to regional groups who can swiftly assist in this crisis. Those with the greatest proximity to communities are the best poised to support them in crisis. Organizations in the South often lack the dollars necessary to respond in moments like these. The coming days will be critical to ensuring that the workers from these plants, these mothers and fathers, receive the help they need, from legal services to humanitarian support. 

Next, call on those who should be held responsible. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) not only represents Mississippi but also chairs of the Homeland Security Committee. He should be providing oversight and approval for these types of actions. We can, and should, lobby our local governments to follow the leads of major cities that are taking bold action to protect immigrant and workers. This is about providing all workers — especially the most vulnerable — the right to a safe workplace. 

Lastly, we are calling on those businesses leaders that shirk at the images of young children being torn away from their parents. We need you to take action in your workplace, in your boardroom and with your dollars. We need you to take a stand by examining the ways low-wage workers who are overwhelmingly people of color and immigrants are exposed and unsafe in your companies and take action to change these conditions. We need you to have the hard conversations with your peers and partners about what is happening in this country and use your positions to actively call out white supremacy.  We also need you to take action with your dollars. Every dollar you give to this administration and its leaders is ammunition to separate families, keep children in cages, and retaliate against the working people of this country. 

In my view, the Trump administration has demonstrated the depth of the connection between white supremacy, policing and corporate power.  As a society, we seem to have real clarity about the losers in these connections: the children, the families, the workers, and the communities whose faces and fear will now be paraded on our television screens and over our social media accounts.

It is critical that we spend the same amount of time and energy on those who stand to benefit from these actions — the bosses who were not protecting their workers. We must call out those who stand idly by as workers and immigrants are mistreated, are exploited, are arrested in the most terrifying and public of ways after they showed up to work on a Wednesday morning. 

As we take continued collective action against these atrocious raids, we must also set a new precedent for protecting all working people. Especially those doing the jobs like the workers at the agricultural processing plants in Mississippi. Our future depends on it. 

Carmen Rojas, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO The Workers Lab based in Oakland, California. 

Tags Bennie Thompson Carmen Rojas employee rights ICE raids worker rights

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