INS workplace raids used to bust organizing efforts
Alejandro Reuss
May/June 1999

For the last two years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has rounded up undocumented immigrant workers at their worksites for deportation. Sweatshops multiply because of the INS raids, says the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants in New York, whose members-immigrant rights, labor rights, and Latin America solidarity groups-have been opposing the raids through protests and an anti-raid hotline (888-57-LUCHA).

Undocumented workers--particularly those working under sweatshop conditions--avoid complaining about workplace abuses and don't form unions for fear their employer will call in the INS, have them detained, and possibly deported. This assault against undocumented immigrants, the Coalition argues, also undercuts the bargaining power of other vulnerable workers who compete against those suffering from illegal sweatshop conditions.

The INS first gained the power to raid workplaces in 1986. At that time, Congress also required that employers verify an employee's immigration status before hiring.

The coalition, along with 32 other organizations, has tracked the impact of 235 INS raids across the country to counteract the self-serving public declarations of the INS. This information is now available in a report by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The report tells a story of violence, intimidation, and employers' use of the INS to break up union organizing. For instance, five days after Staten Island laundry workers sent their employer a letter demanding $159,999 in unpaid wages, the INS raided the plant.

David Wilson of the New York Coalition relates his group's discovery that the INS singles out Mexican workers for roundup in the city. When asked why this was the case, an INS agent replied bluntly that it was cheaper to deport workers to Mexico than to almost any other country.

More than 150 labor, civil rights, religious and community groups are using the report to demand that the Department of Justice (which oversees the INS) stop the raids. More information: NYC Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants, 212-254-2591; National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 510-465-1984.

This article Copyright 1999 Dollars and Sense. Reprinted with permission. Subscriptions to D&S Magazine are $18.95, from 1 Summer Street, Somerville, MA 02143. Call 1-888-736-7377.

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