Standing together after the raid

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Microsolutions Inc, a manufacturer of printing cartridges in Van Nuys, Calif., on February 7, arresting 138 workers. Immigrant rights activists and organized labor came together to denounce the raid and provide legal help. With upcoming legal cases and deportation hearings, workers are raising funds and increasing awareness of their struggle.

Victor Fernandez talked to one of the leaders of the group United Workers of Van Nuys.

WHAT LED you to form your group?

MOST OF us already knew each other from working together for three to four years. What brought us together as a group was the raid.

We started as 15 people who went to churches and consulates to ask for help. We were given food and the churches offered to find us work. However, we were unable to work because ICE put ankle bracelets on us to monitor what we were doing.

With help from organizations such as Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica and Hermandad Mexicana Nacional-Van Nuys, we started hosting fundraisers. We held a dance and a "lucha libre" (Mexican wrestling), where "Super Mojado,"a wrestler that fights against ICE and defends immigrants, debuted.

What you can do

For more information on United Workers of Van Nuys and the struggle to defend their rights, call 661-317-1780.

WHAT WAS your experience during this raid?

DURING THE raid, more than 100 ICE officials surrounded and entered the workplace. When they came in, they told us to drop any knives, screwdrivers, bombs or grenades, as if we were terrorists. They told us to make two lines--"over here if you have papers, and over there for the wetbacks."

One coworker said he was going to remain silent and wanted a lawyer, and they told him that if he didn't say anything, it would be worse for him. They started physically and verbally abusing another coworker, and when we told them they didn't have a right to do so, they responded that they had a right to do whatever they felt like.

When we were taken to detention, it took them 14 hours before they fed us, and the food we were given was stale and moldy. Many of us left detention with colds because they left the air conditioner on at full blast.

TELL US about your experience with your fingerprints?

I HAD to take my fingerprints 10 times before the machine they had could register them. This is because in our work we used chemicals like charcoal, film cleaner and one named PASO. These chemicals burn through plastic when used. Even though we'd get latex gloves, they would disintegrate. Many times we weren't even given gloves at all.

The toner is made up of iron dust and would make many workers' noses bleed. Of 138 people that were taken, about 70 people had injured wrists, backs and necks. Yet we were all there, because of necessity.

WHAT IS the current situation for the majority of Van Nuys workers?

MANY OF us right now are very worried about paying our rent and our bills. Our fundraisers and outside help are not enough for 138 people. Most lawyers are charging between $1,500 and $3,000 per case.

Most of us haven't worked in a month. The first cases are coming up on April 4, and some of us have representation and some of us don't.

The 15 of us that started this group made a promise. We said that the people that were able to stay here in the U.S. would continue organizing people so that people can know their rights and the things that happened to us don't happen to anyone else.