A national commission blasted the federal government for its tactics in a series of workplace immigration raids, saying in a report released Thursday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had violated workers' rights and traumatized communities.
The commission, which included U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi and others, was set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union representing workers at several Swift meatpacking plants where raids took place.
"I was totally shocked by the level of abuse," said UC Davis law Professor Bill Ong Hing, a member of the commission, which heard testimony at five hearings across the country. "ICE showed up with weapons drawn and no warrants. ... We saw deprivation of prescription drugs, separation of newborns from nursing mothers."
The report described the 2006 Swift raids in which thousands of workers - most of them U.S. citizens or legal immigrants - were held by heavily armed ICE agents for up to eight hours without food, water or the opportunity to use a bathroom or a telephone.
Testimony alleged racial profiling and violations of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and detention without due process. Out of an entire Swift workforce of 12,000, ICE had warrants identifying 133 suspects of identity theft, the report said.
Iowa-born Swift worker Michael Graves said he was handcuffed and held at gunpoint: "It baffled me the way they treated us like criminals."
In the Bay Area, 63 workers were arrested at 11 Mexican restaurants in the El Balazo chain last year.
ICE spokeswoman Cori Bassett said she could not comment on the report, but said: "The men and women of ICE have a sworn duty to uphold the nation's immigration and customs laws. We do so professionally, humanely and with an acute awareness of the impact that enforcement has on the individuals we encounter. Anyone encountered who is in violation of those laws has full access to due process under the law."
Several lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security have been filed as a result of the immigration raids, including by workers at Micro Solutions Enterprises, a toner cartridge company in Van Nuys. But the report's authors said a better solution would be to change how immigration enforcement is conducted.
Earlier this spring, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she would direct federal agents to focus more on arresting and prosecuting employers and less on targeting illegal workers. With the exception of one worksite raid in February in Bellingham, Wash., which Napolitano said she did not know about beforehand, the Obama administration has not conducted workplace raids.
Joseph Hansen, the president of the food and commercial workers' union, emphasized that he was not opposed to workplace immigration enforcement across the board and commended ICE for its more targeted approach at a seventh Swift plant where agents asked management to produce specific individuals suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
"We're not specifically calling for a moratorium, but we'd like to meet with Secretary Napolitano," he said. "There's a right way to do these things without violating people's rights."