Thursday, March 3, 2011

Big Brother Is Watching You, Migrant Workers!

Immigrants in Mississippi must feel like a giant eye is watching their every move these days.

Officials with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency recently conducted four days of raids in Jackson and surrounding towns, arresting 58 immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries and prompting calls of protest for their heavy-handed methods.

The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) reported that the ICE agents conducted raids pretending to be Domino Pizza delivery men and Avon representatives and thus convincing immigrants to open the doors of their homes.

ICE agents said some of those arrested had criminal records, including some who had been deported before and who returned illegally to this country. These face long prison terms if convicted.

MIRA organizers said they received reports of ICE agents holding guns to people's heads, threatening witnesses, and pushing and shoving suspects. "We believe ICE is targeting the leadership and economic base of the immigrant community," MIRA spokeswoman Cynthia Newhall said in a statement.

The raids come at a time when the Mississippi Legislature is considering Arizona-like proposals to force a major crackdown on workers without proper documentation and, some say, expose any non-native to prejudicial treatment from law enforcement agents.

The nation's largest workplace raid on undocumented workers in history took place at Howard Industries' electrical transformer plant in Laurel, Mississippi, in 2008. More than 600 workers were detained, and most of them were eventually deported.

After denying knowledge that the company's workers lacked documentation for more than two years, Howard recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate federal laws on immigration. The plea was entered in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg February 24. The company agreed to a fine totaling $2.5 million.

Four African-American women subsequently filed a lawsuit against Howard for discrimination by repeatedly refusing to hire them at a time when the company was hiring workers without proper documentation. The four were eventually hired after the 2008 raid.

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