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2008-08-27

600 Arrested at Mississippi Factory in Largest Immigration Raid in US History

Guests

Bill Chandler, Founding Executive Director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. He was also an eyewitness to the brutal immigration raids of the 1950s.

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Nearly 600 people were arrested this week in a massive immigration raid on an electrical equipment factory in Laurel, Mississippi. The raid is now being described as the largest in US history, topping the May raid on a meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Until last week, the immigration raid at the meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa was described as the largest workplace raid in US history. Now, that dubious distinction goes to an electrical equipment factory in Laurel, Mississippi.

Federal agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, descended onto the Howard Industries factory early on Monday. They separated all Latino workers from their white and black co-workers, arresting nearly 600 people. Initial reports of the raid noted 350 workers had been arrested. But on Tuesday, federal officials revised the number to 595.

An estimated 475 workers were taken by bus to a detention center 200 miles away in Jena, Louisiana. They have not yet been charged with any crime. A smaller group was released with electronic monitoring ankle bracelets on “humanitarian” grounds. Only eight of those arrested have been charged with aggravated identity theft. Reports indicate that the Howard plant has closed its doors for now, after losing three-fourths of its workforce.

To find out more, I’m joined now on the phone from Jackson, Mississippi by Bill Chandler. He’s the executive director of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, one of the primary groups providing services to those affected by the raids.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bill. Can you tell us what happened?

BILL CHANDLER:

Thank you for having us. We began getting indications that there were going to be raids early last week, when we got reports from workers around the state and on the Gulf Coast that they had seen a rapidly growing number of ICE agents checking into hotels and running around, particularly in the southern part of the state. And we have been engaged in an educational campaign, with leafleting, house meetings, door-to-door work all over the state, to educate the Latino community, which is overwhelmingly immigrant, about their rights, should they encounter ICE agents or Border Patrol.

And we have been very prepared, along with the unions involved in poultry, particularly, the laborers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, because we expected the raids to occur at poultry plants. And then there was a possibility that casinos might be raided, as well, because of the concentration on the coast. The Howard Industries, fact that they were raided, was a different target than, historically, ICE has been involved in.

But I think, really, one of the previous people that you interviewed, Dolores Huerta, who I had worked with in the early days of the farm workers’ union effort in California and Texas, pointed out that one of the things that we believe that the Republicans are afraid of, and the right-wing in general, particularly in the South, is bonding between Latinos and African Americans. And we believe that that is one of the reasons that there has been so much focus on xenophobia in political campaigns in the South, and particularly in Mississippi, and this may have been a factor in the decision to go after these workers in Jones County, Mississippi.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Chandler, we’re still joined by Dolores Huerta in studio. And I wanted to ask, as we conclude this discussion, you know about this raid where nearly 600 people were arrested in Mississippi, overall. I mean, in Postville, all information had come out in the previous weeks of abuse at immigration jails, and it seemed to be the raid took attention away from that. Now we’re at the Democratic convention. Huge attention here, and so another massive raid takes place.

DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I believe that the Republicans want to use the immigration issue as a scapegoat issue to try again to draw attention away from everything that’s happening at this convention. We know this is political, at the same time that they’re deporting people and arresting them. In California, now, there are thousands, Amy, of H-2A workers, foreign workers, that have not been in California since 1964, when we ended Public Law 78. So, basically, the administration is saying we want workers, but we don’t want them to be residents or citizens of this country. It’s political because they know Latinos are going to the Democratic Party, and this is the one way that they can keep that vote count down.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there, Dolores Huerta, longtime labor activist; Bill Chandler, founding executive director of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance.

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