U.S. citizens like Hector Veloz, a 37-year-old Los Angeles resident, are among tens of thousands languishing in immigration detention facilities without having received a hearing to determine whether their detention is warranted.
“My case was so ironic,” said Veloz. “I am a U.S. citizen, but was held for 13 months and placed on deportation procedure. Because the prison is in Arizona and my family lives in California, I didn’t see my son Geronimo even once in those 13 months.”
The horrible details of his story are included in a report issued last month by Amnesty International.
Even Veloz’s father is a U.S. citizen, a Vietnam veteran who won a Purple Heart. His mother, an immigrant from Mexico, met his dad in the U.S. before he shipped out to war.
Veloz was picked up in Los Angeles by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and flown straight to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where he remained from June 2007 to July 2008. The private detention center is one of several operated by the profitable Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private corrections company in the U.S.
“I showed them my birth certificate and that of my father and my parents’ marriage certificate. But they wanted more proof and kept processing me for deportation, even if none of my documentation was ever contested,” said Veloz.
“It was a terrible prison,” he said about the jail where he was confined with other workers, both documented and undocumented, along with asylum seekers, human trafficking victims, children and other U.S. citizens. They were held there by the private corporation although they were not accused or convicted of a crime, and were denied the right to counsel or judicial review. After being locked up in this way for 13 months, Veloz was finally released.
The Amnesty International report says the number of people held in similar detention increased during the eight years of the Bush administration to about 300,000 annually. The report calls it “a human rights scandal.”
If the nation’s two union federations have their way, however, what happened to Veloz will never happen again.
The Change to Win federation and the AFL-CIO last week issued a “roadmap” for immigration reform that would, among other things, limit the ability of government agents to round up workers and ship them off to detention centers with no fair hearings.
Former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall unveiled the labor movement’s immigration reform “framework” April 17 on Capitol Hill, where it is expected to gain support.
One key provision of the “framework” is its call for creation of an effective work authorization process. The unions’ plan calls for scuttling the current, discredited “E-verify” system that involves matching identification presented by workers with data in the Social Security system. Marshall noted that “unions have challenged this in court because of many identity and document error problems and because of privacy and due process concerns.” He said the idea is to create a system that gives workers control of their personal information and gives trained federal professionals, not employers, the responsibility for verifying a job applicant’s immigration status.
A second key provision would strengthen labor law enforcement and collective bargaining rights for all workers. Marshall said that massive non-compliance with labor laws and the weakness of collective bargaining rights make it difficult for workers to protect themselves, “a necessary precondition for effective labor law enforcement.”
The plan also would prohibit immigration authorities from entering workplaces where labor disputes are in progress. Many of the biggest immigration raids during the Bush years were clearly staged to weaken or destroy union organizing drives at large plants.
Labor’s “roadmap” calls for a path to legalization for the 12 million immigrants now in the country and for curbing abuses that are part of current “guest worker” programs.
The plan takes issue with the current practice whereby “guest” workers become nothing more than indentured servants tied to one particular company. A problem with a supervisor, therefore, can become grounds for expulsion from the country. The roadmap envisages ending this servitude and severely limiting the growth of these programs in the future.
Three unions, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Farm Workers and the Service Employees International Union, were, because of their high proportion of immigrant worker membership, heavily involved in drawing up the new approach.
Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW, said, “Our nation’s immigration system isn’t working for anybody — not immigrant workers who are routinely exploited by companies and not U.S.-born workers whose living standards are being undermined by the creation of a new underclass.”
“The development of a unified labor position, a position centered on workers’ rights, puts us on the path to a legislative solution,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “The labor movement is speaking in one voice, to press Congress and the White House to create a system that protects all workers — those who work in our shadow economy and those who have full rights.”
jwojcik @ pww.org