Did ICE Violate Its Own Deportation Guidelines in Arresting Chicago-Area Unionized Meatpackers?

Yana Kunichoff

(Garrett Wilber/ Flickr)

On Fri­day, June 26, work­ers from the Ruprecht Company’s meat­pack­ing fac­to­ry in Mundelein, Illi­nois, walked off the job in a spon­ta­neous strike against a pend­ing immi­gra­tion audit. Sev­er­al weeks lat­er, eight Ruprecht work­ers, three of whom are mem­bers of UNITE HERE Local 1, have been appre­hend­ed by immi­gra­tion authorities.

In a state­ment, Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) said the eight work­ers were picked up after the depart­ment dis­cov­ered the work­ers had records that fall with­in its pri­or­i­ties for arrest dur­ing a rou­tine immi­gra­tion audit. ICE claims the work­ers’ past charges include drunk dri­ving, theft and felony fraud. But orga­niz­ers argue that the audit and sub­se­quent arrests, which took place while a group of Ruprecht work­ers were in union nego­ti­a­tions and fol­lowed the fil­ing of two unfair labor prac­tices (ULPs) could vio­late ICE’s own rules against inter­fer­ing in work­places that are in the midst of labor disputes. 

Accord­ing to a Decem­ber 2011 mem­o­ran­dum between ICE and the Depart­ment of Labor, ICE agrees to refrain from engag­ing in civ­il work­site enforce­ment activ­i­ties at a work­site that is the sub­ject of an exist­ing DOL inves­ti­ga­tion of a labor dis­pute.” The mem­o­ran­dum opens the door to sev­er­al excep­tions to this pledge, includ­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty issues, but pri­mar­i­ly cre­ates a space for ICE and the DOL to con­sid­er indi­vid­ual cases. 

Dan Abra­ham, orga­niz­ing direc­tor for UNITE HERE Local 1, says the depart­ment should heed its own edict. ICE should stay out of the work­force when there is col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, and immi­gra­tion audits should not be con­duct­ed in work­places where there are unfair labor prac­tice charges pend­ing,” he says.

ICE con­tends that it plays no role in any ongo­ing labor dis­putes when con­duct­ing inves­ti­ga­tions involv­ing an employee’s eli­gi­bil­i­ty to work law­ful­ly in the Unit­ed States.” But an immi­gra­tion audit can have con­se­quences that weak­en a union­ized work­place. Tim Bell, an orga­niz­er with the Chica­go Work­ers’ Col­lab­o­ra­tive who is not involved with the Ruprecht case but is a long­time orga­niz­er with immi­grant work­ers, says he has seen sev­er­al cas­es where an audit has caused union­ized employ­ees to either quit their jobs for fear of depor­ta­tion or be appre­hend­ed as a result of the audit.

The result, says Bell, is the union los­es its mem­bers and the com­pa­ny fig­ures out ways to replace those work­ers,” often with temp workers.

Whether the eight work­ers are eli­gi­ble for relief under some of the Oba­ma administration’s pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion or deferred action pro­grams is unclear. In Novem­ber 2014, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties divid­ed ICE pri­or­i­ties for depor­ta­tion into three cat­e­gories, with indi­vid­u­als who had felonies at lev­el one, the high­est pri­or­i­ty” for appre­hen­sion and removal for the depart­ment. Some immi­grants who are in depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings may qual­i­fy for asy­lum under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion’s Deferred Action for Par­ents of Amer­i­cans and Law­ful Per­ma­nent Res­i­dents (DAPA) plan, but the order has been stalled amidst a legal bat­tle around its con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty.

By the esti­ma­tion of the detained immi­grants, how­ev­er, the enforce­ment pri­or­i­ties don’t appear to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence, says Hena Man­sori, super­vis­ing attor­ney of the Nation­al Immi­grant Jus­tice Center’s Adult Deten­tion Project.

There is not real­ly any dif­fer­ence we see between ICE detain­ing peo­ple who are pri­or­i­ties one, two or three. There is a huge chunk of peo­ple we see [in depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings] who may have one mis­de­meanor,” she says. The prob­lem is that if the only thing that DHS is look­ing at is a person’s crime, they are not actu­al­ly tak­ing into account oth­er cir­cum­stances in the person’s life.”

One such per­son is Mau­ro Bar­rera, who his cowork­ers allege was arrest­ed on his way home from work at Ruprecht. (ICE says that none of the appre­hend­ed immi­grants were stopped at the work­place itself).

Ana Bahena, Barrera’s sis­ter-in-law, says that the mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances in Bar­rera’ case are not only his chil­dren, who live in the Chica­go area, but also that he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the walk­out despite not being unionized.

I think he is being tar­get­ed for his lead­er­ship,” Bahena says.

Yana Kuni­choff is a Chica­go-based inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and doc­u­men­tary pro­duc­er. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Pacif­ic Stan­dard and the Chica­go Read­er, among oth­ers. She can be reached at yanaku­ni­choff at gmail​.com.
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