Immigration police grab two more activists

June 23, 2017

Owen La Farge and Steve Ramey report from Vermont on more detentions of immigrant farmworker activists who have been courageously standing up for their rights.

THE FEDERAL government is continuing its war on Vermont's immigrant dairy workers who are fighting for their rights.

Two more workers organizing with the immigrant rights organization Migrant Justice were arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection just hours after they had participated in the group's 13-mile-long March for Milk with Dignity.

On June 17, more than 200 farm workers and supporters marched 13 miles from the Vermont State House to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, Vermont to demand that the company sign a contract to improve working conditions on dairy farms in the state. Later that day, Yesenia Hernández-Ramos and Esau Peche-Ventura, two immigrant workers who participated in the historic march, were arrested at a traffic stop.

Two actions were called for the following day at the facilities where the two were being held, each drawing more than 30 people. Chants outside the facilities included, "¡Yesenia, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!" and "¡Esau, Yesenia! ¡El pueblo se levanta!".

On the march for Milk with Dignity in Vermont
On the march for Milk with Dignity in Vermont (FoodTank)

Migrant Justice campaigner Brendan O'Neil spoke at the action outside the facility where Yesenia was being held about the courage of migrant workers to protest even when they know they could face political targeting by ICE. As O'Neil said:

Those workers were sacrificing, willingly and knowingly, something that could happen along these lines...ICE is serving the function of driving workers across this country--this is not just a Vermont issue--into enduring and sucking up terrible, deplorable workplace conditions because of the fear this creates.

Most of the workers and their supporters marched the full 13 miles on June 17 in order to send a powerful message about the campaign's strength. Enrique Balcazar, a leader in Migrant Justice who was himself abducted and targeted for deportation by ICE in March, urged the crowd at the final rally:

We are fathers, we are mothers, we are youths with dreams of a better life, and right now we find ourselves under attack from new policies of immigration coming down from the federal government. And in this environment of attack, the only thing that we can do is redouble our efforts to fight for and secure every one of our human rights.

MIGRANT JUSTICE has been calling for Ben & Jerry's to sign and implement the Milk with Dignity program that the famous ice cream company agreed to in 2015, but has taken no action to implement since.

Vermont's immigrant dairy farm workers often face wage theft, 70- to 80-hour workweeks without overtime pay, going days at a time without eight consecutive hours off, substandard housing conditions housing on farms that lack drinking water, and many other intolerable conditions.

As dairy workers have organized to resist these injustices, their bosses have been aided by the government, which, instead of detecting and punishing violations of labor law, is carrying out raids against workers who are protesting the violations.

Last year, ICE targeted Migrant Justice activist Victor Diaz. This year, immigration agents detained Migrant Justice activists Balcazar and Zully Palacios, and deported Alex Carrillo away from his wife and daughter, who are American citizens.

And as of the writing of this article, Migrant Justice's Facebook page has been reported and taken down.

We face the harsh reality that the government and the business class that run this society want to remove any glimmer of hope from the immigrant community. They want immigrant workers--and others besides--to be voiceless and too terrified to do anything other than accept appalling conditions and miserable wages.

In many cases, Migrant Justice activists have been the best hope the immigrant community has had for a better life--which is why these activists are under attack. Their courage in face of the most powerful government in the world targeting them has been an inspiration--and is a clear lesson to the rest of the labor movement: If we fight, we may lose, but if we don't fight, we will have already lost.

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