Let’s step it up against the ICE raids!: An action plan for protest, strikes, and monitoring of la migra

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“Operation Wagon Train.” It sounds like a bad Western movie, or a school project for second-graders. In fact, it’s one of the many programs of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that make life miserable for undocumented workers. During its sweep through six states in December 2006, ICE arrested 1,250 people. Half of them were deported!

Part of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE turned more than 190,000 immigrants into displaced people in 2006, a 13 percent increase over the number ejected from the U.S. in 2005. Its Gestapo-style raids at workplaces and in neighborhoods are appalling. ICE agents even used fire shelters in San Diego to entrap and deport Latinas and Latinos without papers during the recent devastation.

Why is this happening? Because big business wants cheap, helpless labor and the government is happy to help quash rising immigrant activism – especially union organizing. After all, it’s contagious.

The urgent task for the U.S. labor and other movements is to join with immigrant workers on the offensive against these rabid raids!

Militancy rising. One government tactic is to send “no-match” letters to companies, informing them that some employee Social Security numbers do not match official records. Management uses these letters to fire union activists. This happened at the Smithfield hog processing plant in North Carolina.

“They were worried about people organizing a union,” explained an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers, “and the government said, ‘Here are the tools to take care of them.'” The workers staged a two-day wildcat strike and later a protest of 1,000 people at a Smithfield shareholders’ meeting.

The United Electrical union has set up a hotline in Chicago to help the targets of no-match letters. UE also supported Cygnus soap factory workers who all walked off the job in South Chicago when their bosses threatened to fire anybody with nonmatching Social Security numbers. Management backed off after two weeks and the workers got their jobs back.

In the last few months, the sites of ICE ambushes have included businesses and homes in Connecticut, Nevada, Virginia, and California, often picked in retaliation for local laws that favor immigrants. There has been protest in all of these places.

In Reno, Nev., students walked out to join a 1,000-strong demonstration against 11 raids at McDonald’s restaurants. Released ICE detainees marched with them. In Virginia, thousands turned out to denounce anti-immigrant laws proposed by Prince William County lawmakers and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In Los Angeles, the We Are All Elvira Coalition protested at ICE headquarters. The group formed in solidarity with Elvira Arellano, a 32-year-old single mother who took up sanctuary in a Chicago church for a year (and was finally deported in August). Providing sanctuary is a growing movement, extending to policies in over 30 cities that forbid police and other city employees from enforcing federal immigration law. (See www.ojjpac.org/sanctuary.asp.)

Taking decisive action. All over the country, immigrants and their supporters, including branches of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party from coast to coast, are marching and educating for the rights of undocumented workers. It is time for us to pump it up! We need to out-organize ICE through swift, vocal, visible and unrelenting action. Here are ideas about how:

• Get proactive in protesting the raids.

Make plans before raids happen for united community action and set up phone trees for a rapid response. Establish central clearinghouses for information on the whereabouts of ICE agents and potential raids so that warnings can be sent to work sites and community organizations. Contact friendly stations, like KPFK in Los Angeles, to publicize raids before or as they happen. Organize protests at ICE offices to gain maximum media coverage.

Immigrant, community and union activists must collaborate with targeted workers and show up when raids occur, picket signs in hand, with the intent to stop them.

• Create a national campaign for cities to follow the lead of New Haven, Conn., in providing ID cards for people without papers so that they can get jobs, drive cars, and organize against injustice without fear.

• Provide sanctuary. Push for union halls to become safe places where families and individuals can stay.

• Local and national immigrant rights coalitions have collected hefty sums of money from marches and rallies across the country. They should use these to fund legal defense for immigrants and their families hit by ICE raids.

• Labor activists should propose to their unions that money currently funneled to Democrat and Republican campaigns be redirected to defense funds for those arrested by ICE. They should also press for their union officials to launch massive organizing drives for immigrant workers, from meatpacking plants and the service industry to day laborers. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations should demand unconditional and immediate legal residence and Social Security numbers for all immigrant employees.

• Workers must appeal to union leaders to organize a national work stoppage – a general strike – to end the raids. Labor officials should also be urged to challenge the Democrat and Republican electoral charade by fielding anti-capitalist candidates to fight for workers’ real interests – including the dismantling of ICE and Homeland Security. And they should be pushed to adopt a call for open borders for workers – a simple question of fairness in a world where capital travels wherever it pleases!

Strong intervention by unions is crucial to the defense of immigrants – and to the power and even survival of the declining labor movement itself. Immigrants are not “alien.” They are an integral part of the U.S. working class, and always have been! The fight for immigrant workers is a fight for all workers – and it needs our best efforts now.

Portland, Ore., Radical Women Organizer Jen Laverdure has recently found new employment after being fired for refusing to supply Homeland Security with exhaustive personal information. She can be reached at rwpdx@igc.org.

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