The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Charging up the “deportation machine”

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After the workplace raid on a landscaping company in Ohio on June 5, 2018, HOLA Ohio went to a local church where they met with community members whose families and friends were missing. In a Facebook post, they report, “We proceeded to meet with countless families who were distraught, crying, frightened, missing loved ones and at a loss for what to do.” (Photo courtesy HOLA Ohio)

As the Trump administration makes good on its promise to ramp up ICE workplace raids, the damage ripples far and wide. Families are torn apart, industries are drained of workers, and communities are suffering economic and social hits.

A workplace raid happens as a state of siege: Helicopters hover overhead. Surrounding streets blocked off. Dogs. ICE agents swarm in, handcuffs at the ready.

The crime: The possibility that people may be working in the US without legal documentation.

That’s it.

The result: Men and women arrested, lined up in handcuffs, transported away, most likely to be deported. Children stranded at daycare centers and schools. Elderly relatives left home alone.

Workplaces suddenly drained of workers, ground to a halt. And a blanket of fear descends over any community with a substantial immigrant population. People afraid to step outside their homes – to go to school or work or church, to take public transportation, to go shopping.

Families are terrified – which is the point. The administration is charging up the “deportation machine,” starting a series of raids on workplaces across the country, in the effort to frighten and intimidate workers and employers.

  • On Tuesday, about 200 federal officers swarmed two locations of a landscaping company in Ohio, barging into break rooms and arresting 114 workers suspected of being in the country illegally. In a Facebook post, HOLA Ohio reported on the aftermath of the raid: “We began by visiting families in the Jefferson Street Trailer Park, where hundreds of Mexican families who work in agriculture have lived peacefully for many years. It was a ghost town—heartbreaking to see how the families had fled, leaving behind vehicles and all of their possessions. Their top priority was to protect their families.”
  • On May 9th, ICE entered Midwest Precast Concrete in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and arrested 32 workers on “suspicion of Immigration violations.”
  • In April, federal agents descended on a meatpacking plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, and arrested 97 immigrants.
  • In January, 21 people were arrested as a result of raids at dozens of 7-Eleven stores.

ICE says the point of these raids is to warn unauthorized workers not to fill these jobs, and to prevent employers from hiring them. The administration knows that these actions resonate well with a base that has been built on a nationalist, “America First” siren call. Now that these workers are cleared out, they say, American citizens will have opportunities again as jobs suddenly appear.

Needless to say, this does not make sense. First, the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 1969; there is no army of unemployed waiting for jobs to open. Not to mention, what disaffected workers are hoping for are good jobs:  living wages, regular schedules, robust benefits. The jobs left open in the wake of a raid will not meet these standards.

Second, the workers being swept up in raids are, for the most part, doing jobs that would not be filled otherwise. The US workforce includes roughly 8 million unauthorized immigrants, largely doing the most undesirable jobs in the country – from agriculture to construction to food service. The workers rounded up were cutting cold slabs of meat, planting in hot fields, working in a concrete factory. For low wages, scant benefits, and in hazardous conditions.

In fact, just before the raids on Tuesday, the Ohio Landscape Association wrote on Facebook about the shortage of labor in its industry. “There is not a large enough workforce to fill our seasonal positions,” the organization wrote. “We need congress to pass legislation to provide more Visas now.”

Third, our economy runs on the labor of these workers. If the 8 million workers, and their families, were to drop their tools and flow out of the US one day, the disruption would be enormous, expensive, and frightening. As Pete Aiello, a farm owner in California notes, “I’ve been telling anyone who will listen: you either import your workforce or you import your food. Unless American citizens are willing to do this work – which they haven’t shown they are willing to do.”

What is to be done

Locally: As the climate of fear rises like a mist in communities with large immigrant populations, people are starting to become more concerted in organizing rapid response teams. These teams maintain communications systems that provide accurate information as to whether a raid may be happening, or not. Citizens investigate rumors, and report back. When raids do happen, they arrange legal help (petition for release, arrange hearings, provide bail).

Often, in the rush of a raid, agents arrest and detain people who are fully authorized to work in the US. HOLA Ohio reports: “As people gathered to listen, dozens of agents moved in shouting orders for U.S. citizens to line up on one side, and those “not born in the U.S.” to line up on the other. After a long time, some were released who had papers, others were loaded on buses, including several U.S. citizen high school students, and taken to the Border Patrol station.”

Nationally: Oxfam works with a coalition of organizations that is holding the Department of Homeland Security accountable, and making sure that raids are properly conducted. Oxfam recently signed onto an organizational sign-on letter to Congress, and there will be a Hill briefing on June 7 that focuses on the impact of these raids.

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