Fernando Rodriquez, director of Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in Colorado, took time out from the Congreso Latino meeting in Los Angeles last week (see story, page 3) to tell the World about immigration raids the government conducted at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in December.
During those raids, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rounded up 12,000 workers at plants throughout the Midwest and West, including one in Greeley, Colo.
The UFCW has filed suit against both the ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that the workers had their constitutional rights violated as a result of false imprisonment and abuse suffered at the hands of the government.
Following are excerpts from Fernando Rodriquez’s comments.
“ICE arrived in Greeley around 6 a.m. on Dec. 12. They surrounded the packing house, fully armed, and took over the plant. The guards were stationed 5 feet apart with guns and riot gear.
“I was in Denver at a staff meeting. As soon as we heard, I rushed back and arrived at the packinghouse in Greeley at 11 a.m. I found all the Mexican and Latino workers in the cafeteria. There were 1,200 workers, wall to wall. They were not being permitted to go to the restroom, use the phone, eat or retrieve their lunch pails.
“The ICE agents said they only wanted to check their status. They came in with 29 warrants for ID theft. Instead of calling out the 29, they herded all the Latino workers down one stairwell into the cafeteria. Then they separated the citizens and the noncitizens. It was all racial profiling.
“When I arrived, my members told me they weren’t allowed to eat or use the restroom. I asked the agents why and they said they would take care of it. They started letting only one or two people go to the bathroom at a time, after four hours of waiting.
“As I was talking to the membership, an ICE agent asked me who I was. I explained that I am the director of UFCW representing that membership. They said I could not be there because I am a U.S. citizen. I asked why the supervisors were allowed to be there, since they are U.S. citizens. They said that the company had invited them, and told me that if I did not leave I would be arrested.
“I left and went to the production floor and found 200 to 300 workers there. They had not been allowed to eat or use the bathroom. When I asked that their legal right to talk to an attorney be granted, I was told it was none of my business.
“The workers were taken to Denver, to Texas and some were shipped back to Mexico. It was a long-term project to locate each individual.
“That same day ICE raided all the Swift plants in the country. [As a result of legal challenges by UFWC locals, some workers were released and] only nine of the 29 warrants at Greeley were upheld.
“The labor movement represents everybody who wants to be organized. After they are hired by the company and complete their probation, they become members and gain representation no matter where they are from.
“ICE targeted the Mexican and Latino workers. Bush is using racial profiling to try and keep a Republican presidency and win more Republican seats in Congress.
“Our government has allowed this. The 13 million undocumented in our country should be given amnesty.
“Everybody in this country has the right to legal protections. These rights were not given to the people who were detained. The lawsuit we have filed is to prevent the violation of human rights.”