Facing Deportation for Showing Up to Work

Jobs with Justice

FreeRodrigo_hugo

Instead of celebrating Father’s Day with their children and family, beloved fathers and longtime U.S. residents Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nunez spent the special day in a detention center near Oakland, California.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has held Hugo and Rodrigo in immigration custody since May 3. That morning, their employer sent them to work on a new construction project at a hospital on the Travis Air Force Base. At the base, a military official detained and reported them to immigration officers. Now they fear the worst: that the federal government will deport them at any point and tear them away from their families and communities.

The devoted family men call California home and have lived in the United States for more than 15 years. Hugo is a foreman at S&R Drywall and a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and Rodrigo is a member of the Carpenter Union Local 713. The construction workers are local volunteers with deep community ties. Hugo lives in San Rafael with his wife, Yadira and his three young kids. His eldest children have been granted protection from deportation through DACA, and his youngest is a U.S. citizen.  He volunteers at his children’s school. Rodrigo lives in Hayward with his wife and his three young kids, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He is an assistant coach for his son Sebastian’s baseball team who also volunteers at his church.

Argued Hugo, “We don’t take anything from this country. On the contrary, we give to this country. It’s not fair to deport us.”

None of these facts have compelled the local ICE field office director to stop their expedited deportation cases or release Hugo and Rodrigo. ICE has full discretion to discharge them from custody so they can reunite with their families while reviewing their cases.

The Trump administration’s ramped up immigration policies could result in more of our friends and neighbors getting separated from their families as a result of reporting to work. Hugo and Rodrigo deserve to watch their children grow up and thrive.

If ICE deports Hugo and Rodrigo, everything that have worked to achieve to sustain their families could be taken away. And the loved ones they leave behind will experience an emotional and economic toll. The Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute study found that a father’s deportation causes a family’s income to drop an average of 73 percent.

Hugo’s and Rodrigo’s detainment has caused a widespread outcry among labor, faith, and community groups, and elected officials. Jobs With Justice and our network of coalitions are supporting a #FreeHugo&Rodrigo week of action currently underway urging ICE to free both men and halt their deportations.

You can help keep up the pressure to reunite Hugo and Rodrigo with their families with two simple gestures:

1) Make a call to the San Francisco ICE field office to demand that Director David Jennings use his prosecutorial dissertation and release Hugo and Rodrigo now.

2) Encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Call ICE Director David Jennings at 415-844-5503

 

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New England Carpenters Demand Workers Comp for Undocumented Worker Detained by ICE

Diego Low, Metrowest Workers Center

This is an update to the case of José Flores (Injured Worker Detained by ICE in Retaliation).  At 11:30am on May 22, José Flores was released to his family for deferred action due to pressure from Metrowest Worker Center, MassCOSH, and other members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative and legal allies. While this is a victory, the need for financial support has increased, in order to be able to assist the entire family with legal counsel. We are so grateful for the more than $7,500 already raised. Our current goal is to raise another $12,500 for a total of $20,000.  Please consider making a donation here.

Last week, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters released a statement against this kind of retaliation, saying “The New England Regional Council of Carpenters represents all carpenters regardless of their status.  If someone works they deserve to be paid. If they are injured on the job they are entitled to workers compensation coverage. End of story. A worker’s immigration status should not play any role in whether these right apply. Immigration officials going after any worker involved in a workplace dispute has a chilling effect on others exerting their rights under the law.”

We are organizing with a broad-based coalition of allies to speak up against this situation. We know that, beyond the workplace, the threat of ICE tends to drastically reduce the community’s willingness to report any kind of serious situation to authorities, from domestic violence to medical emergencies. This makes our communities far less safe, and provides protection for those who prey on the vulnerabilities of others. We urge you to join us in standing up for the safety of our communities.

The Return of Workplace Immigration Raids

San Francisco Press Conference Suppporting AB 450

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – David Huerta, President of United Service Workers West, SEIU, speaks at a meeting of San Francisco janitors and other workers supporting AB 450, a bill protecting workers during immigration raids and enforcement actions. 

David Bacon

At the end of February immigration agents descended on a handful of Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi, and in nearby Meridian. Fifty-five immigrant cooks, dishwashers, servers and bussers were loaded into vans and taken to a detention center about 160 miles away in Jena, Louisiana.

Their arrests and subsequent treatment did more than provoke outrage among Jackson’s immigrant rights activists. Labor advocates in California also took note of the incident, fearing that it marked the beginning of a new wave of immigrant raids and enforcement actions in workplaces. In response, California legislators have written a bill providing legal protections for workers, to keep the Mississippi experience from being duplicated in the Golden State.

Once the Mississippi restaurant workers had been arrested, they essentially fell off the radar screen for several days. Jackson lawyer Jeremy Litton, who represented three Guatemalan workers picked up in the raid, could not get the government to schedule hearing dates for them.  He was unable to verify that the other detained immigrants were being held in the same center, or even who they were.  Continue reading

ICE Helps Unscrupulous Employer Shaft Injured Worker

by Paul Garver

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Rosa Benitez with her 2 year old son missing her partner and his father Jose Flores

/After working three decades as a union organizer in the USA and assisting unions to organize in other countries, I thought that nothing ruthless and callous employers in collusion with corrupt governments could shock me anymore.

I was wrong.   This story makes my stomach churn and my blood boil.   It appeared on WBUR, the PBS news outlet in Boston, and shared with me by the Metrowest Worker Center in Framingham, MA.   Thanks to WBUR for its extensive and ongoing news coverage on issues relating to immigration, I quote its report in full here:

“Thirty-seven-year-old Jose Flores and his longtime partner, Rosa Benitez, have been living in Massachusetts for almost seven years. The Honduran nationals both entered the United States by illegally crossing the Southern border.

Benitez, 40 and with tired eyes, says she and Flores had to leave Honduras because of the violence.

‘I Came Here To Fight For My Family’

“Like all of the immigrants arriving from other countries,” she said in Spanish, “I came here to fight for my family. That’s why I’m here. Honduras is terrorized by gangs. I can’t live there. My dad was killed by the gangs. They threatened him and told him to pay a fee, but he didn’t pay it.”

The couple has five children together, three of whom are U.S.-born citizens. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 2 years old. Benitez says since Flores was arrested by federal immigration agents last week, all of the children are scared and asking when their dad is coming home.

The family has had no income for two months. Flores, the sole provider, hasn’t been able to work since the end of March when he fell off a ladder at a job site, breaking his femur bone in his leg and undergoing several subsequent surgeries. After consulting with attorneys, and even though he’s living here illegally, Flores sought compensation from the Boston-based construction company he was working for.

Stacie Sobosik is a workers’ compensation attorney who’s advising Flores, and she says he’s within his rights. “Under case law in Massachusetts, undocumented workers are eligible for the same benefits as any other worker injured in the state,” she said.

Sobosik says she works with plenty of clients who are in the country without documentation and often they’re hesitant to report workplace accidents. The fear is that doing so will result in retaliation from employers in the form of a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“And we’ve always been able to tell clients,” Sobosik said, “ICE has better things to do, bigger fish to fry, than to come after an injured worker because their boss has reported them.”

But that’s exactly what Sobosik believes happened to Flores.

Fears Bosses Could Retaliate Against Some Immigrant Workers

Sobosik says she could not have expected what would take place when Flores’ boss offered some cash to help the family and arranged a meeting.

“The employer told this worker where to be, at exactly what time, and immigration was waiting,” Sobosik explained.

Lawyers for Flores say it’s still unclear whether the employer — who, it turns out, had no workers’ comp coverage on the day of Flores’ accident — arranged the arrest that day.

The company, Tara Construction, has declined to comment.

“… Now we have this added fear that, could an employer … use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

Christina Corbaci, an immigration lawyer

Because Flores has orders to be deported back to Honduras, ICE agents had the authority to take him into custody. But the concern for Flores’ immigration attorney, Christina Corbaci, is that this could signal another new enforcement approach by ICE under President Trump.

“Before, I wouldn’t have really had a concern telling someone, ‘Yes, you should go ahead to report something like this and assert your rights,’ ” Corbaci said. “But now we have this added fear that, could an employer in this kind of case just, you know, use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on specific work methods for security reasons. He did say, however, that ICE receives investigative leads and tips from a variety of sources, and through many means and methods.

Flores remains in custody at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. As for the workers’ comp claim, Sobosik, the attorney, says the case is active.

“He’s clearly going to be disabled for quite awhile into the future, his doctors have said at least six months,” she said. “If he stays in the States that long, he should still be eligible, but what happens if he’s deported? That’s a big question mark. We don’t know.”

And his partner doesn’t know what to expect either.

Sitting at the kitchen table with her 2-year-old son playing in the background, Benitez says despite the hardships, she has no regrets about coming to the U.S.

That’s because, she said in Spanish, “This is a country of opportunity … where the voice of one person can be heard.”

The Metrowest Worker Center is an advocate for Jose Fores and for many hundreds of undocumented workers in the Boston area who are routinely cheated of their wages, subjected to dangerous working conditions, and threatened by the criminally negligent employers and sub-contractors who hire them.  With limited resources, this Worker Center, like unions and worker centers around the globe, do what they humanly can. It is raising funds to support Jose Flores, Rosa Benitez and their children at

http://www.mwc-casa.org/home-and-news/injured-worker-detained-by-ice-in-retaliation

UPDATE   5/23 from Diego Low of the Metrowest Worker Center:

The injured worker detained by ICE at the instigation of his employer, Tara Construction, is back with his family.    He was released around noon today under a temporary stay of deportation while investigations proceed regarding his employers retaliation for reporting the injury and pursuing workers comp.  We will continue to pursue sanctions against the employer and to stabilize the status of the worker and his family.  The worker is likely to need at least six months to heal from the workplace injury.   We hope to get the crowd funding site updated so as to raise funds for the substantial legal fees the family is facing.

Immigration Reform and the Jobs Dilemma

by Brendan Walsh

Photo by  Anuska Sampedro Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Anuska Sampedro Flickr Creative Commons

Having flexed their muscle in November’s elections, Latino voters momentarily had Republican elected officials, especially in Arizona, falling over themselves in an effort to appear more friendly to the state’s Hispanic communities. Infamous sheriff Joe Arpaio, when announcing his intention to run for reelection in 2016, made an effort to reach out to Latinos in Maricopa County. Five days after the election, Governor Brewer announced that she was “fine and dandy” with the idea of immigration reform (before quickly backtracking). And Senator John McCain told Fox news that, in order to create a “bigger tent,” Republicans “have to do immigration reform.”

These remarkable developments had many advocates of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) feeling as if the wind is at our backs, and that CIR will finally be a reality in 2013. Those advocates, however, would be wise to keep in mind, especially now, the fact that the fight for immigrants’ rights in the United States involves addressing the continued consolidation of corporate power in this country, and won’t be won simply by leveraging the minimum number of congressional votes for a least-common-denominator CIR package. Nor will it be won without a significant change in our public discourse about jobs.

Continue reading

Immigrant Steel Workers March Against Unjust Firings

by David Bacon

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin speaks to the marchers before they set out. (Photo: David Bacon)

Berkeley, California – Two hundred immigrant workers, their wives, husbands, children and hundreds of supporters marched through downtown Berkeley February 17, protesting their firing from Pacific Steel Castings, one of the city’s largest employers. Starting at City Hall, they walked for an hour past stores and homes, as bystanders often applauded. Teachers and students at a Montessori school along the route even came out to the sidewalk to urge them on.

At a rally before the march started, fired worker Jesus Prado told the assembled crowd, “I worked for Pacific Steel for seven years. We’ve organized this March for Dignity because we want to stop the way they’re stepping on us and treating us like criminals. We came here to work, not to break any laws.”

“Many of us are buying homes, or have lived in our homes for years,” added another fired worker, Ana Castaño. “We have children in the schools. We pay taxes and contribute to our community. What is happening to us is not just and hurts our families. All we did was work. That shouldn’t be treated like it’s a crime.”

Continue reading