‘How does this keep this country safe?’ asks labor leader

HOUSTON — 200 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swept up and arrested 166 workers at Action Rags,U.S.A., June 25, just north of the Houston Ship Channel here. Seventy were detained and the rest had to be released because they were U.S. citizens. Reports indicate that as many as 70 percent of those detained were women, 10 of whom were pregnant and most of whom were working to feed families.

Most of those arrested were from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The women rounded up in the raid were rag sorters earning extremely low pay and contending daily with dangerous working conditions including excessive heat.

Maria Lopez, a friend of some of those at the plant, told KHOU TV that “they didn’t have fans, they didn’t have AC. You could say it’s an oven in there.”

Lopez, who was outside the plant after the raid, said, “I’m here because of some relatives of a friend, a very close family to ours. I won’t lie: they don’t have papers and they’re working to help their mom and sisters. My mother-in-law’s in there. Her son was to have an operation on his ear and she had to come to work to get some money for the operation.”

ICE says it will release the ten women who are pregnant with orders to report to an immigration court.

Another four detainees had to be transported for medical treatment. One woman fell 20 feet off a stack of wooden pallets where she was hiding from the agents during the raid.

Two of the company’s owners and three managers were arrested on July 2 for hiring undocumented workers.

Many spouses in the local community are, as a result of the raid, without their partners. Children are without parents and many have protested against the raid.

Events such as the raid are known to cause emotional trauma in the victims. People who are exposed to severe life trauma are more vulnerable to the development of chronic mental conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, depression, panic disorder and some psychotic conditions. Sleep and appetite disturbance as well as problems in relating to other people may render the person permanently disabled and unable to work and function in a normal way.

Children are the victims when their parents are ripped out of the family unexpectedly. Psychologists note that an experience like the raid can leave an otherwise normal child with a chronic sense of insecurity and anxiety that could be permanently debilitating. Some children of those detained in immigration raids are permanently separated from their parents. Some are taken to ICE detention facilities and are put in isolation with no access to education. Some exhibit severe behavioral disturbance as a result of this trauma and are taken to inpatient psychiatric facilities for treatment. All of these experiences, psychologists say, can compound the original trauma.

When parents are detained children are typically placed in the custody of Child Protective Services. When the parents are deported children remain in foster homes in this country, resulting in orphaned children with living parents.

The horror of all of this, social service professionals note, is the fact that the resulting trauma is entirely unnecessary and is resulting from a form of brutality that probably has little historical precedent.

The exceptions were when the children of slaves in this country were cruelly separated from their parents or when concentration camp prisoners in Nazi Germany were separated from their children.

The irony of the situation is that undocumented immigrant workers embody what is best about the United States: the country’s diversity and “can-do” spirit, immigrant rights advocates say. Adding insult to injury, the system further punishes them for their hard work by subjecting them to unreasonable immigration laws.

The labor movement has increasingly played a major role in showing how this entire situation hurts the majority of workers in the United States by serving as a mechanism for lowering all wages and as a wedge issue to divide groups that have an interest in fighting together for better conditions for everyone.

More than 100 members of a variety of labor and community groups demonstrated June 27 in front of the Mickey Leland Federal Building here to protest the raids.

Mike Espinoza of SEIU told the protesters, “Our question to the federal government is very simple. How does putting a working woman in jail keep this country safe?”

phill1917 @comcast.net