Largest Workplace Raid in History – Laurel, Mississippi

Last Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS, arresting nearly 600 unauthorized immigrant workers.

The raid surpassed May’s raid in Postville Iowa as the largest workplace raid in history, and it continues the increasingly aggressive enforcement only policy of the current Bush administration.

Media coverage of the raid was sparse, since it coincided with the first night of the DNC and Michelle Obama’s powerful appearance. However, the little attention given to the raid worked to hype up racial and non-union/union worker tentions.

From the LA Times:

It was the black co-workers who clapped and cheered, Pena said, as she and hundreds of other Latino immigrant laborers were arrested and hauled away.

“They said we took their jobs, but I was working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” said [Fabiola] Pena, 21, a day after the raid last week that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 suspected illegal immigrants. “I didn’t see them working like us.”

And from the Washington Post:

One worker caught in Monday’s sweep at the Howard Industries transformer plant said fellow workers applauded as immigrants were taken into custody. Federal officials said a tip from a union member prompted them to start investigating several years ago.

However, there are reports coming out of Mississippi that the raid was politically and financially motivated. Not only does Howard Industries have close ties to the MS state government, but there was a growing coalition of workers pushing for better conditions and union contracts with the company.

There is a great analysis of this at New American Media:

Jim Evans, a national AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi and a leading member of the state legislature’s Black Caucus, said he believed “this raid is an effort to drive immigrants out of Mississippi. It is also an attempt to drive a wedge between immigrants, African Americans, white people and unions – all those who want political change here.” Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), agreed that “this is political. They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state, the kind we’ve seen in Arizona and Oklahoma. The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi’s changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years.”

Basically, unions were working to increase their immigrant membership, in order to ensure fair pay and good conditions for all Howard employees. This is when the raid occurred.

I have posted before about the idea of raids as union-busting efforts, and this seems to be no different.

Additionally, there were multiple financial reasons for going after Howard Industries. For more on this analysis, check out this blog post at Immigration talk with a Mexican American. The post connects the dots between the current Bush Administration, Howard Industries (whose CEO is a big-time GOP contributor), and GEO Corp (who runs the Jena, LA detention center where detainees are currently being held).

The media should start covering the real story behind these raids. The Bush administration is denying due process and basic human decency to thousands of workers, while big business and government continue to profit both financially and politically.

For more on this perspective check out this post at VivirLatino.

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