USA: ICE arrests nearly 700 people in raids targeting immigrant workers at poultry plants

On 7 August, 2019, nearly 700 workers from poultry processing plants in Mississippi were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for allegedly not having proper documentation to be in the US. Many civil society groups have condemned this action and expressed concern about both human rights violations often associated with raids and their potential negative impact on workers reporting abuse or unsafe conditions at their workplace.

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Article
9 August 2019

ICE arrests hundreds in Mississippi raids targeting immigrant workers

Author: Miriam Jordan, The New York Times

Federal agents raided several companies across Mississippi on Wednesday, rounding up hundreds of immigrant workers in what federal officials said might be the largest worksite enforcement action ever in a single state... Three poultry plants that are owned and operated by Peco Foods in three towns, and a fourth run by Koch Foods, in Morton, Miss., were among the facilities raided... “We have officially returned to the era of massive worksite raids,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization. “The net result will be immigrant workers pushed further underground, families separated and local economies decimated."

... The poultry industry has long relied on immigrant labor to do the physically taxing work of cutting, cleaning, deboning and packing chicken in cold, sometimes dangerous conditions... In a statement, [Peco Foods]... said it had adhered to all local, state and federal laws and had used E-Verify to screen its new hires... “The chicken industry uses every tool in the toolbox, including E-Verify, to help ensure a legal work force,” Tom Super, a... spokesman [for Koch Foods], said. “And we’ve been strong advocates before Congress to make those tools even stronger.”

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Article
8 August 2019

ICE raids followed a massive sexual harassment settlement at Mississippi plants

Author: Zack Ford, Think Progress

Wednesday’s raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which led to nearly 700 workers being detained, targeted seven Koch Foods Inc. poultry plants in Morton, Mississippi... [L]ast year, Koch Foods settled a $3.75 million lawsuit for racial discrimination, national origin discrimination, and sexual harassment against its Latinx workers in that very same Morton facility... According to the suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), supervisors, “touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees, and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities.” Many workers were reportedly either discharged or subjected to other forms of retaliation when they complained. As part of the settlement, Koch Foods not only paid out a massive sum to the victims, but also agreed to implement training for employees and set up a 24-hour hotline for reporting discrimination complaints in both English and Spanish. 

... The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which represents many of these plant workers, is concerned these ICE raids will discourage workers from reporting abuse or unsafe conditions.

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