Immigrants Fight Back Against E-Verify!
The immigrant community has been one of the hardest hit by the anti-worker policies of the Obama administration: the record number of deportations (396,906 last year alone – more than 1,000 deportations a day!), mandating of the E-Verify program, promoting the Secure Communities program, and exclusion of the undocumented from the health care plan and the stimulus tax refunds. The E-Verify Program is a federal computer program that companies can to use to match their employment records against theIRSrecords in order, supposedly, to verify an employee’s identity. Despite the incredible amount of mistakes inIRSrecords, Obama is still pushing E-Verify as a way to go after undocumented workers. A mismatch discovered through E-Verify, either for name, gender, or social security number, results in a No-Match Letter that’s sent to the employer and employee and often is used as a pretext for firings. It has been among the most disturbing new developments in immigration policy under Obama. In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama left no doubt that he plans to continue the same policies, under which the situation of immigrants will continue to worsen. “I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration,” he remarked, continuing with the explanation that “that’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.” The closest he came in the speech to discussing immigration reform was a plea to “at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country,” a reference to the Federal Dream Act which the Democrats are now seeking to separate out from the broader immigrant rights movement. If they succeed, in addition to imposing a de facto poverty draft on immigrant youth, its passage will be used to try to buy off and silence a section of the immigrant rights movement at the same time that they continue rejecting legalization and real immigration reform. The attacks on undocumented labor, both at the federal and state levels, have weakened the labor movement as a whole. Countless organizing campaigns have been destroyed by well-timed E-Verify raids and deportations of union activists. Significant sectors of the workforce – meatpacking, restaurants, hotels, custodial, construction – could face the threat of deportation just for seeking improved living and working conditions. Yet, the immigrant community has also been one of the most organized and active sectors in the struggle. Hundreds of immigrant steel workers at Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley have been organizing since Summer, 2011 against an E-Verify raid that threatened one-third of the company’s total workforce with job loss. The workers were able to stall the firings for months through their actions and self-organization, but November the company started firing workers. The majority of the firings happened in December, only weeks before Christmas. All in all, 200 undocumented workers were fired. The workers at Pacific Steel, one of the biggest steel foundries in the nation, face some of the toughest and most unsafe conditions imaginable. People are forced to work without a break, in unsafe conditions, and the company has been demanding cuts to benefits. Many of the fired workers have devoted decades of their life to the company. As a result of their firings, they all lost their pension plans, which consisted largely of contributions that came out of their own wages. But the Committee of Fired Workers has continued the fight. And the workers’ struggle has garnered significant support, culminating in a March on Feb. 17th where workers were joined by hundreds from Occupy Oakland, Occupy Cal, and the Berkeley community.
The Fight Against E-Verify: One of The Most Critical Battles Facing The Labor Movement As A Whole
This offensive on the Pacific Steel workers is not an isolated act. The Obama administration, which was elected under the campaign promise of immigration reform within the first year in office, has made expansion of the E-Verify program and “silent raids” targeting immigrant workers one of its signature policies. While some states have chosen to mandate E-Verify, most have chosen to allow companies to participate voluntarily, an arrangement that further facilitates companies’ use of the program as a tool to squash worker organizing campaigns and eliminate troublemakers while mitigating any disruptions to production or profits that enforced raids might cause. This is clearly the situation with Pacific Steel, where the raid happened in the aftermath of a major strike in March, 2011. The struggle at Pacific Steel is only the latest in a string of hard-fought battles against E-Verify raids. On May 1st, 2009, the first major fightback against the E-Verify mass firings erupted at Los Angeles-based food packaging plant Overhill Farms when 254 workers, overwhelmingly women, were terminated. Like at Pacific Steel, the Overhill Farms workers organized against the firings. Only a couple months later, another E-Verify raid at supposedly pro-immigrant company American Apparel’s downtown LA factory took down 1,500 workers. In the last several months, similar struggles have been waged by workers at both Stanford University and Pomona College, where 17 dining hall workers were laid off last December, with students, faculty, and staff uniting in solidarity with fired campus workers. At Pomona, the raid was part-and-parcel of a administration effort to defeat a unionization campaign. But the unions have advanced no real strategy to fight back the workplace raids, leaving immigrant workers totally vulnerable and dead-ending the struggles in demoralizing defeats. In almost every case where there was significant worker resistance to the mass firings, it has been the product of independent rank-and-file organizing, often times in the face of intimidation and discouragement by the union leadership. Instead of responding with militant workplace stoppages bringing together immigrant and citizen workers, the union leadership has tried time and again to convince workers to rely on closed door negotiations between union staff and the company. From UFCW to SEIU, union leaderships have accepted and sought to convince workers that reversing the firings is not a possibility. And in some cases where fired workers were rank-and-file activists perceived as a threat to the union leadership, they have even stalled in coming to their defense.
Another Sector Affected By The E-Verify Raids: The Transgender Community
Immigrant workers have not been alone in being targeted by the E-Verify program. Many citizens have faced firings over discrepancies in their own records. And the transgender community – people who’s gender identity is different than their sex at birth, including transsexuals and other gender non-conforming people – has also been deeply affected. In addition to some times also being immigrants, trans people frequently receive No-Match Letters because of discrepancies in their listed genders and names between the records their employers submit and the records held by the Social Security Administration. The process of having all your legal documentation changed to reflect your chosen name or your gender identity is extremely difficult and often expensive. Sometimes, it is impossible. For the Social Security Administration to change one’s recorded gender, they require medical proof that the person has completed Gender Reassignment Surgery. This means that most transfolk will never qualify – thus, their records will be permanently red-flagged as suspicious. The result of this many times is workplace harassment and discrimination, privacy violations including being “outed” as trans, and unfair job losses. In this way, the trans community shares the terrifying experience undocumented workers face in trying to secure employment and provide adequate documented proof of eligibility to work. The trans community also shares the experience of living with fear everyday of the consequences of being “outed” or discovered. For this reason, in recent years, there has been an increasing collaboration and solidarity between the immigrant and trans communities – from standing united against E-Verify to the trans community openly calling for an end to Secure Communities to recently in LA where both groups actively participated in defeating LAPD’s policy of targeting poor queer youth and youth of color with truancy tickets. It is no coincidence that most of the victims of recent attacks against trans women in San Francisco have also been immigrant women – these are the two most vulnerable sectors of the working class. We need to build their unity and call on the entire working class to defend them!
No confidence in Obama, the Democratic Party, and the union bureaucrats
The leaders of the union bureaucracy (i.e. SEIU, AFSCME, Teamsters, etc) unconditionally support Obama and only occasionally criticize other Democrats. They say that the Obama administration has not been able to advance immigration reform and other policies which would benefit workers because the Republicans won’t let them. These are lies. The Democrats have not protested the anti-immigrant legislation of the past years, and in reality most have been openly working with Republicans in pushing for anti-immigrant legislation. In place of an open position calling for full legalization, the unions are seeking to work with the Democrats to find a “solution” to illegal immigration. They have gone as far as supporting guest worker programs, which would lead to an even more intense situation of exploitation and political disenfranchisement for immigrant workers.
What must the labor movement do? Stand up and fight back!
The lack of a fighting union to help organize the struggle against anti-immigrant legislation like E-Verify is one of the biggest obstacles undocumented workers face. Labor leaders should publicly denounce the current immigration policy as being an attack not only on immigrant workers, but on the American working class as a whole. The lowering of wages and destroying of rights for immigrant workers gives the bosses greater leverage to pressure the rest of the workforce to accept the worst working conditions. The unions should explain this to all American workers! However, the Pacific Steel workers and undocumented immigrants don’t have to rely on their union leadership to step up. They aren’t alone in their fight! They have been self-organizing, without much support from their union leadership, and have gone to Occupy Oakland and the Berkeley community for the numbers and support to organize their defense. The Occupy movement must be broadened to include the struggles of the immigrant movement, and the struggle of the undocumented is one of the most concrete ways to do this. We should fight for the legalization ofALLimmigrants, for an end to the criminalization and the raids, and for the de-militarization of the border. And we should connect these demands to a struggle within the US to end NAFTA and the other imperialist policies the Obama administration is continuing around the world. These are the demands that La Voz de los Trabajadores (Worker’s Voice) defends and that many immigrants support. Many Occupy’s and other groups have called for a General Strike on May 1st. Immigrants are part of the 99%, too. The struggle of the undocumented should be just the start of a resurgent immigrant movement. Let’s build the groundwork for May 1st in order push the Occupy Movement to be more representative of the struggles of the entire 99%!
Reinstate all workers laid-off through E-Verify immediately!
End E-Verify, Secure Communities, and the Deportations now!
Jobs for ALL and Legalization for ALL!
For a fighting, classist May 1st!