On the morning of June 12, at a Del Monte food processing plant in North Portland, Oregon, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) sent in 160 agents in an over-the-top display of force against the plant’s mostly immigrant workers. 167 of these workers were rounded up like animals and now face deportation in the largest raid that anyone can remember in Oregon’s recent history. ICE agents also went into apartment complexes and at least one high school in search of more victims. Their actions were so egregious that even Portland Mayor Tom Potter was compelled to condemn them.
The number detained, as large as it is, only tells part of the story. The full scope of this attack and its effects began to become apparent at an emergency response meeting at a Catholic Church the same evening. From the up to 300 immigrant family members and their supporters, stories emerged of numerous cases where both parents of a household had been caught up in the raid, leaving their children alone at home with no idea what had happened. Many families will likely be split up and lives ruined as a result of ICE’s attack. For those immigrants who worked elsewhere, they are now being faced with the the choice of going to work and risk being caught up in another raid, or staying home and risk losing their job. A shadow of fear has been cast across the immigrant neighborhoods as suffocating as what would be expected under a military occupation. “Everything is closed shut,” Olga Escalera told an Oregonian reporter, “they are not opening the door to anyone. The drapes are down on the windows, the windows are shut. They are not answering their phones…there’s so much panic, so much fear.”
The day of this high profile raid, President Bush was paying a rare visit to Capitol Hill in an attempt to revive a bi-partisan “comprehensive immigration reform” bill that had stalled in the Senate. Many immigrant rights organizations and unions see this bill has worse than the status quo. The National Day Labor Organizing Network called it a “cynical and mean-spirited effort of those Senators that seek to poison the Immigration reform debate yet again.” While federal officials have said that the timing of the raid and Bush’s visit was coincidental, it would be naive to believe this. The effect of this raid was to send a very clear message to the immigrant organizations and unions to not oppose the immigration reform bill – or else!
Likewise, the raid was also meant to send a clear message to immigrant workers to not struggle for better wages, working conditions, and union representation. Workers at the Del Monte plant had been complaining about their low wages ($7.80 per hour, Oregon’s minimum wage) unsafe working conditions, as well as the withholding of overtime pay, and the lack of break periods and safety gear. As recently as last August, Del Monte was obliged to pay $400,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by eight ex-employees regarding these conditions. The capitalists want to keep immigrants as an extra-oppressed and, therefore, more easily exploitable source of cheap labor to use against all workers’ demands to get a bigger piece of the pie our labor has produced. However, as we have seen with the immigrant rights movement and the Del Monte workers’ complaints about how the bosses are treating them, immigrants are not taking the capitalists’ preferred arrangement lying down. The ICE raid was an attack against all workers because any action that hurts the ability of immigrants to demand better conditions for themselves, also hurts the ability of all workers to demand better conditions for our class.
In Portland, immigrant rights advocates demonstrated a significant degree of organization to respond to ICE. Word had gotten out that there was going to be a series of raids within a 72 hour period. A phone tree was activated and a 24 hour ICE watch was set up to monitor their actions. As a result, immigrant defenders were at Del Monte minutes after ICE had initiated the raid to take notes for the detainees’ legal defense and to make sure that their rights were not violated any more than had already been done. Almost immediately a press conference and organizing community meeting were set up. Legal teams, housing, food, and a general bank account for the raid’s victims were in place within hours.
This organizing is, to a significant degree, the fruit of the massive immigrant mobilizations over the last year and a half. It demonstrates that, despite the Federal Government’s attempts to intimidate the movement, organizing for immigrant rights has continued on a more sophisticated level.
The capitalists and their politicians must not be allowed to strangle the movement with repressive legislation and strong-arm tactics. We must build from the organizing that has been already done nationally to build for a National Day of Action Against the ICE Raids and Deportations. Both immigrant rights organizations and the unions should take the lead in making this happen. If so, we will be in a better position to not only respond to the raids, but to stop them.