LA labor steps up to defend undocumented

Sarah Knopp describes the strong response to an ICE workplace raid in Southern California.

LOS ANGELES--The labor movement here, in cooperation with immigrants' advocacy groups, has stepped up the effort to defend unorganized workers from workplace raids.

What you can do

Supporters are encouraged to make donations to support the Micro Solutions workers and their families. Checks and money orders can be made out to CHIRLA, with "Van Nuys Worker Fund" in the memo line. Send to CHIRLA, 2533 W. 3rd St., Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90057.

On February 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents burst into the Micro Solutions printer-cartridge factory in Van Nuys, Calif., and about 150 people were arrested and detained.

According to the ACLU, every worker was handcuffed even though they posed no threat. Workers were prevented from using their cell phones to call family members to arrange child care, and ICE agents held their hands to their guns to threaten workers.

Workers contacted the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA), which has been conducting "Know Your Rights" forums around the city, and started to organize. "We didn't realize this was going on before," said Victoria, a worker at the factory. "We were just busy with housework and all the things that take up time. We didn't have any experience with this."

CHIRLA contacted labor and other immigrant rights groups. The Southern California ACLU, National Lawyers Guild and National Immigration Law Coalition agreed to provide legal counsel. But ICE prevented the lawyers from attending deportation hearings with the workers, violating their right to due process before deportation.

On February 14, CHIRLA, UNITE-HERE, SEIU, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC), the ACLU and many other immigrants' rights groups like the South Asian Network, the Emergency Response Network and Frente Unida Contra Las Redadas organized an emergency response protest at the Los Angeles Federal Building. Some 250 people attended, many of them factory workers.

The protest was remarkable for the way that it brought together so many immigrant rights groups that have been working on separate projects since last May Day.

As Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said at the protest, "They think that they can walk into the workplace and just take everybody. They are doing this everywhere. They need to respect our rights as workers, our rights as immigrants, our rights as human beings. No to ICE terrorism! We want justice in the workplaces."

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ACCORDING TO the Urban Institute, workplace raids and detentions have increased sevenfold since 2002. There are approximately 5 million children of undocumented parents in the U.S. who are at risk if their parents are swept up in these types of raids.

In this climate, it is a step forward for the immigrant rights movement that workers are organizing against raids in their workplaces, and have the support of labor institutions. As Victoria said, "I hope that this unites us, citizens and non-citizens, to continue the fight for justice. We're all the same."

The protest also connected specific workplace raids to the larger issues of immigration reform. "We cannot in good conscience uphold these immigration laws which have been shown to be broken, immoral and inadequate," Angela Sombrano of NALACC said.

Hamid Khan of the South Asian Network agreed. "As we go back to our communities to organize," Khan said, "we cannot tell people that the best we can get is what's on offer from the candidates this year."

The South Asian Network is one of several groups that grapples with organizing immigrant workers. Others include the Korean Immigrant Workers Association, Hermandad Mexicana, CHIRLA, and Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). Often, these community groups do "Know Your Rights" trainings and community meetings, and are the first places that workers visit when their rights are violated.

Sometimes, workers decide to strike--most recently, South Asian beauty salon workers who decided to strike the ZIBA beauty salon in Artesia in January. Questions then arise about legal representation in the workplace, and later collective bargaining rights. Sometimes, these groups get support from the established labor movement, and other times, they don't.

The February 15 protest was a good example of the kind of support that unions can provide for unorganized workers. "We cannot stop," Durazo said. "Some of our brothers and sisters are in prison. We have to get them out."