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ICE Raids Focused On Company Whose Hispanic Workers Won Discrimination Lawsuit

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officers. (Photo: U.S. ICE)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officers. (Photo: U.S. ICE)

“The workers alleged 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 activities at work, such as using bathrooms, taking leave or requesting job transfers.”

The largest single-state ICE raid in US history was carried out in six Mississippi poultry plants on Wednesday, resulting in the detainment of 680 people. Over 300 were later released, such as pregnant women and single parents, with notices to later appear before immigration judges.

The raids took place on the first day of the school year, leaving children traumatized after returning from school to find their parents had been taken away. Schools were not notified in advance of the raids.

“Children finished their first day of school with no parents to go home to tonight,” reported the Jackson Free Press. “Babies and toddlers remained at daycare with no guardian to pick them up. A child vainly searched a workplace parking lot for missing parents.”

Raids Follow $3.75 Million Discrimination Lawsuit

Journalist Mike Elk notes that the raids may have specifically targeted hispanic workers who won a $3.75 million discrimination settlement last year against Koch Foods, one of the poultry producers involved in the raid.

The Clarion Ledger detailed the grievances of hispanic laborers after the settlement was reached in Jackson, Mississippi, last year:

“The workers and EEOC alleged Koch subjected Hispanic employees and female employees to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment based on their race/national origin and sex, and then retaliated against those who complained.

The workers alleged 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 activities at work, such as using bathrooms, taking leave or requesting job transfers. Further, a class of Hispanic employees was subject to retaliation in the form of discharge and other adverse actions after complaining.”

A Pattern Of Raids Targeting Activist Laborers

Mike Elk reports that other ICE raids, such as one in Ohio and another in Tennessee, have followed complaints of worker conditions and fines.

“I think that if we follow the case studies of what we’ve seen so far, then it appears to be a punitive of measure against the workers,” Jackson mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told DemocracyNow. “There appears to be a pattern that has been established here.”

At least two of the raided plants were unionized under the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. UFCW spokesperson Abraham White expressed concern that the raids are being used to terrify immigrant workers into complacency with inhumane conditions.

“Workers across this country are too scared to stand up for their rights and to report wage theft, dangerous work conditions, and other workplace issues,” said White. “We must act now to end this dangerous climate of fear”

“The fact that those unions have a presence there was probably another reason why the United States government chose to target those plants,” L. Patricia Ice told DemocracyNow. “Because it is clear that the corporations and others want to get rid of unions here in Mississippi, and really across the nation.”

“Many immigrants rights advocates have speculated that workers are targeted for raids after their facilities get investigated for worker abuse,” wrote Elk.

The ‘Hispanic Project'”

Angela Stuesse, a cultural anthropologist at UNC Chapel Hill and the author of “Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South,” has researched how the poultry industry purposefully recruited Latin American immigrants for cheap labor in the 1990’s.

Stuesse explains how a poultry plant in Morton, Mississippi- the same plant that would later be involved in the $3.75 million discrimination settlement- sought out immigrant labor in Miami to subvert a newly unionized, predominantly African American labor force that was fighting for better worker conditions.

In 1994, the chicken plant began what it would officially dub ‘The Hispanic Project‘ by filling a Greyhound Bus full of immigrants and bringing them to Mississippi to work. Other poultry plants caught on to the scheme, bringing thousands of immigrants from Florida, Texas, and other states to work in the Mississippi plants within years.

One plant offered to pay $600 to any employee who recruited a new worker for a minimum of three months, incentivizing immigrants to invite people from their home countries to work in Mississippi. As Stuesse reported, one Peruvian immigrant advertised the opportunity in his hometown of Arequipa’s newspaper.

“Today agronomists, engineers, librarians, and psychologists from Arequipa are working in Mississippi poultry,” wrote Stuesse.

“By the time I arrived to work in Mississippi’s poultry communities alongside the Mississippi Poultry Workers’ Center in 2002, over half of the country’s quarter-million poultry workers were immigrants, most of them in the South,” wrote Stuesse for the Washington Post.

“A mapping of poultry production and Latino population growth shows that poultry has been a major driving force of a demographic transformation in the region. In Mississippi, it was the driving force, increasing the Latino population in some poultry towns by over 1000 percent in the 1990s.”

Koch Foods

Koch Foods, who later acquired the company that started the Hispanic Project, is one of the largest poultry suppliers in the United States, selling chicken products to Walmart and Burger King.

Koch Foods’ CEO, Joseph Grendys, is estimated to be worth $3.3 billion. Grendys and other company officials responsible for hiring undocumented workers have not been charged.

Koch Foods, which is not affiliated with Kansas-based Koch Industries, previously paid a $536,046 fine for violating immigration laws in February 2010.

Koch Foods announced it would host a job fair on Monday after many of its workers were detained in the raids.

“It’s unlikely those people will be able to work in the coming months as they await hearings,” Clarion Ledger reports.

El Paso Shooting

As the raids were being carried out on Wednesday, President Trump was in El Paso to comfort victims of a mass shooting that targeted hispanics. The shooter posted an anti-immigrant manifesto before carrying out the massacre, in which he referred to hispanic immigration as an “invasion.”

The manifesto mirrored President Trump’s rhetoric, as his campaign has referred to immigration as an “invasion” in over 2,000 Facebook ads this year alone.

The shooter told authorities he was specifically targeting Mexicans, according to the Associated Press.

The eight hospitalized victims in El Paso all declined to see the president.

 

 

 

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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