Monday, July 24, 2006

Immigration Raid's Effects Reach Beyond Workers

In the conservative small town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, smack dab in the middle of the 'Bible Belt', the community was disrupted last July, with the effects still felt today.
Just before 7:30 a.m., immigration agents arrived at the Petit Jean Poultry plant. They went straight to the room where more than 100 workers from Mexico were cutting up chicken, & shouted in Spanish for everyone to freeze.
As the plant manager watched, workers cried & made frantic phone calls to loved ones. 119 workers, half of the day shift crew, were bound with plastic handcuffs & hauled off to a detention center, where most would be deported.
Immigration officials stated that they were cracking down on illegal hiring & document fraud. But what happened after the raid last July came as quite a surprise to many from this conservative region--Instead of being pleased & reassured that immigration laws were being enforced, many in the area felt that their community had been disrupted.
The workers at the Petit Jean Poultry plant had come to be much more than low-wage chicked processors. They were the town's children's friends & classmates, fellow church-goers, neighbors, softball teammates,e tc. So many residents of this Arkansas town responded to the raid by helping the workers fight deportation. Many donated money, some drove the workers to court, wrote to lawmakers for help, & donated clothes & food to families of the workers detained or sent back to Mexico.
Now, a whole year after the immigration agents arrived at the poultry plant, the Petit Jean plant crackdown shows that the effects of an immigration raid reach far beyond the illegal workers & the businesses involved. Many residents are sympathetic towards the undocumented workers, & angry at the goverment. Even officials charged with enforcing the law in Arkadelphia have criticized the raid for removing people that belonged to their community.
The County Sheriff, Troy Tucker, said, " We take them into our public schools. We accept them into our churches. They play on our football, soccer teams. And then one day Immigration comes in and sweeps them all away."
The anger in this town comes amid new efforts by federal authorities to enforce laws against hiring illegal workers. There have been 2,100 arrested in workplace raids nationwide during 2006, up from 1,145 in 2005, & 845 in 2004.
Not only does the crackdown question the effectiveness of immigration raids, but also the effect it has on communities such as Arkadelphia.
Arkadelphia is a quiet city of around 11,000, where the sale of alcohol is forbidden. It has drawn Latino immigrants for around a decade.
The very first sign that immigration agents would face resistance came a couple of weeks prior to the raid, when they visited the county prosecutor, Henry Morgan. The agents wanted Morgan to charge Petit Jean workers with forgery, saying they knew someone had sold Social Security cards to some Petit Jean workers.
Morgan seemed an unlikely advocate for undocumented workers, but several years earlier he met the son of an immigrant at Petit Jean, & his views opened.
When the Immigration agents paid their call, Morgan remembered the son & his mother. " So I'm thinking: You're going to take a woman who's been here 13 years, worked hard, paid taxes, raised a family-- and these kids dont even know what Mexico's like--and you're going to send them back? Is that what we're doing? Is that Homeland Security?", Morgan asked.
Morgan called Sheriff Tucker across town, who backed him up. But when immigration agents raided the plant 2 weeks later, they did not warn Morgan.
Of the 119 detained workers, 7 were not deported. Due to the community helping, donating, & standing behind the immigrants, including prosecuter Morgan & Sheriff Tucker, they will have a chance to stay & are awaiting hearings.
One resident of the community & friend of one of the workers detained, said, "To me, the raid was foolish. It appears to be more of a political ploy to make people look like they're doing a great job. For us, it kind of backfired."
Governer Mike Huckabee, criticized the raid & said, " Our first priority should be to secure our borders. I'm less threatened by people who cross the line to make beds, pick tomatoes, or pluck chickens then by potential terrorists crossing the border."
Currently, at Petit Jean Poultry plant, plant officials say employee turnover is high. In the mornings, a dozen job applicants mill around the parking lot. But most of the hires do not last, according to Ronnie Farnam, plant manager.
So not only are immigration raids hurting the immigrants & their families, they are hurting the communities such as Arkadelphia, Arkansas, hurting it's businesses like Petit Jean Poultry plant, as well as the people of the community who want very much for their immigrant neighbors & residents to live & work side by side with them.