US cities are still suffering consequences, long after immigration raids

A protest in Chicago, 2017. Image: Getty.

U.S. immigration agents raided an Ohio gardening company on 5 June, arresting 114 suspected undocumented workers.

This followed other large workplace raids, including a raid on a rural Tennessee meat-processing plant in April. The raids suggest the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is returning to sweeping immigration enforcement tactics not seen since the George W. Bush administration.

While the immediate shock and trauma of these raids is visible, there are also longer-term impacts on communities. Research I conducted in Massachusetts, Iowa and South Carolina from 2007 to 2013 shows that large-scale raids are experienced locally as disasters, even by those not directly affected. The raids can also be galvanising, as when humanitarian responses turn into new political alliances that reshape the meaning of community and create ways to stand up for immigrant rights.

Raids as disasters

Bush-era raids occurred in diverse places, but people describe them in similar ways.

In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford, a working-class Massachusetts port. The plant made backpacks for the Pentagon. Six hundred ICE agents arrested 361 people, mainly young Mayan seamstresses from Guatemala.

Postville is an Iowa town of 2,000. In 2008, 800 ICE agents raided; Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest meatpacking plants and the town’s biggest employer, arresting 389 undocumented workers, mainly Guatemalans.


In 2008, ICE also raided; the House of Raeford poultry plant on the outskirts of Greenville, South Carolina, arresting more than 300 workers, mainly Guatemalans.

These raids were spectacles, with helicopters and hundreds of ICE agents.

“It was like a military operation,” described Marc Fallon, a Catholic social worker in New Bedford.

In Massachusetts, ICE flew people immediately to detention centers in Texas. In Postville, ICE threatened to prosecute people for aggravated identity theft unless they took a plea bargain.

The raids led to panic in each community: Relatives of detainees ran to nearby churches to seek sanctuary and information, terrified to go home. Landlords showed up with children who had been dropped off at empty apartments.

The raids created havoc for families and “first responders,” which in these cases included churches, immigration attorneys and other community advocates who scrambled to provide legal aid, track down children and missing detainees, and stock food pantries. Local organizations put into place their disaster readiness plans, and churches became de facto relief centers.

“It was like a war zone,” recalls; Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center in New Bedford. “Family members were walking around in a daze looking for their loved ones.”


David Vásquez-Levy, who was a minister near Postville at the time of the raid, described how hard it was to find people in 28 different ICE jails.

“We started a list on paper, then a spreadsheet, then a complicated database,” he said. “It was like a list of the disappeared in Guatemala.”

Many of those who were arrested remained in detention for up to a year. Some were released on bond, or humanitarian parole if they were mothers with young children, with ankle monitors and periodic court dates to decide if they would be deported.

As the months dragged on, it created an immense strain on local organizations that mobilised to provide transportation to court, and money for food, rent and utilities for the families whose main source of income had been disrupted.

“I was so exhausted, I couldn’t move,” Patricia Ravenhorst, a lawyer in Greenville, told me. “I left my job and did this full-time.”

Postville lost one-third of its population after the raid, as undocumented Guatemalans and Mexicans fled. High school students made a photo banner to remember friends whose desks suddenly were vacant.

Schools hired counselors to help children deal with post-raid depression and anxiety. Some humanitarian responders suffered serious stress-related health effects.

According to a May 2018 policy statement from the Society for Community Research and Action of the American Psychological Association, the psychosocial consequences of deportation can be profound and can affect the broader community.

Postville suffered the most after the raid. Agriprocessors nearly collapsed after losing its workforce, devastating the small town’s economy. The plant stopped paying property taxes, real estate values plummeted, and local restaurants and other businesses closed.

To stay in business, Agriprocessors hired a revolving door of temporary legal workers, mostly young, single men, including Somali refugees, guest workers from Palau, early release prisoners and homeless people. This created a sense of instability and unease in the small town, to the point that many people told me that they wished to have the Guatemalan families back.

Raids and the politics of belonging

Raids reinforce the idea of undocumented immigrants as “deportable.” But they also highlight the many ways immigrants are part of a community’s social fabric.

Volunteers from all walks of life stepped up to provide assistance. Immigrant populations also played a key role in taking care of children whose parents were detained.

The shock produced sympathy toward immigrants. In all three cases, public interest in the local immigrant population arose after the raids. This was expressed in the local press, school programs, art exhibits and theater.

But the raids also hardened local attitudes toward immigration. In the years before the raid, Postville had worked to accommodate and celebrate the town’s new multicultural reality. The raid turned that upside down, leaving people exhausted and bitter, and immigrants fearful.

New alliances

As Rebecca Solnit’s work on the meaning of disasters argues, humanitarian responses can transform into political alliances through grassroots action. In Greenville, South Carolina, a small community alliance for Latino immigrants, with only five members before the raid, expanded to over 200 members after the raid.

Immigrant mutual aid groups, which had existed prior to the raids, found new allies and an impetus to grow. In Massachusetts, Guatemalan workers won a class-action lawsuit in 2008 to recoup back wages from the Bianco factory, as the plant was sold and then shuttered. In 2009, these Guatemalans created a community workers center, building on local union history to focus on immigrant and labor rights.

In 2012, the Guatemalan immigrant community in Greenville created the city’s first Hispanic Catholic Church specifically for Latin American immigrants.

In New Bedford, some of the arrested Guatemalans received asylum, giving them permission to stay in the U.S. In Postville, a group of about 60 women obtained visas granted to crime victims, after they testified against Agriprocessors for labor violations and sexual harassment.

Yet, such slim opportunities for relief from deportation don’t resolve broader debates over the presence of immigrants in communities. Are undocumented immigrants illegal aliens? Victims? Or workers and neighbors?

Ten years on, memories of the Bush-era raids remain fresh in New Bedford, Postville and Greenville. This year, the 10th anniversary of the Postville raid was called “a summons for a change of heart and a change in immigration laws.”

Elizabeth Oglesby, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies and Geography, University of Arizona.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is rising

A man watches wildfires in California, 2013. Image: Getty.

In a warming world, the dangers from natural disasters are changing. In a recent commentary, we identified a number of costly and deadly catastrophes that point to an increase in the risk of “cascading” events – ones that intensify the impacts of natural hazards and turn them into disasters.

Multiple hazardous events are considered cascading when they act as a series of toppling dominoes, such as flooding and landslides that occur after rain over wildfires. Cascading events may begin in small areas but can intensify and spread to influence larger areas.

This rising risk means decision-makers, urban planners and risk analysts, civil engineers like us and other stakeholders need to invest more time and effort in tracking connections between natural hazards, including hurricanes, wildfires, extreme rainfall, snowmelt, debris flow, and drought, under a changing climate.

Cascading disasters

Since 1980 to January 2018, natural disasters caused an inflation-adjusted $1,537.4bn in damages in the United States.

The loss of life in that period – nearly 10,000 deaths – has been mounting as well. The United States has seen more billion-dollar natural disaster events recently than ever before, with climate models projecting an increase in intensity and frequency of these events in the future. In 2017 alone, natural disasters resulted in $306bn losses, setting the costliest disaster year on record.

We decided it was important to better understand cascading and compound disasters because the impacts of climate change can often lead to coupled events instead of isolated ones. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, or UNISDR, claims: “Any disaster entails a potentially compounding process, whereby one event precipitates another.”

For example, deforestation and flooding often occur together. When vegetation is removed, top soil washes away and the earth is incapable of absorbing rainfall. The 2004 Haiti flood that killed more than 800 people and left many missing is an example of this type of cascading event. The citizens of the poverty-stricken country destroyed more than 98 per cent of its forests to provide charcoal for cooking. When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit, there was no way for the soil to absorb the rainfall. To further complicate existing issues, trees excrete water vapor into the air, and so a sparser tree cover often yields less rain. As a result, the water table may drop, making farming, which is the backbone of Haiti’s economy, more challenging.


Rising risk from climate change

Coupled weather events are becoming more common and severe as the earth warms. Droughts and heatwaves are a coupled result of global warming. As droughts lead to dry soils, the surface warms since the sun’s heat cannot be released as evaporation. In the United States, week-long heatwaves that occur simultaneously with periods of drought are twice as likely to happen now as in the 1970s.

Also, the severity of these cascading weather events worsens in a warming world. Drought-stricken areas become more vulnerable to wildfires. And snow and ice are melting earlier, which is altering the timing of runoff. This has a direct relationship with the fact that the fire season across the globe has extended by 20 per cent since the 1980s. Earlier snowmelt increases the chance of low flows in the dry season and can make forests and vegetation more vulnerable to fires.

These links spread further as wildfires occur at elevations never imagined before. As fires destroy the forest canopy on high mountain ranges, the way snow accumulates is altered. Snow melts faster since soot deposited on the snow absorbs heat. Similarly, as drought dust is released, snow melts at a higher rate as has been seen in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Fluctuations in temperature and other climatic patterns can harm or challenge the already crumbling infrastructure in the United States: the average age of the nation’s dams and levees is over 50 years. The deisgn of these aging systems did not account for the effects of cascading events and changes in the patterns of extreme events due to climate change. What might normally be a minor event can become a major cause for concern such as when an unexpected amount of melt water triggers debris flows over burned land.

There are several other examples of cascading disasters. In July, a deadly wildfire raged through Athens killing 99 people. During the same month on the other side of the world in Mendocino, California, more than 1,800 square kilometers were scorched. For scale, this area is larger than the entire city of Los Angeles.

When landscapes are charred during wildfires, they become more vulnerable to landslides and flooding. In January of this year, a debris flow event in Montecito, California killed 21 people and injured more than 160. Just one month before the landslide, the soil on the town’s steep slopes were destabilised in a wildfire. After a storm brought torrential downpours, a 5-meter high wave of mud, tree branches and boulders swept down the slopes and into people’s homes.

Hurricanes also can trigger cascading hazards over large areas. For example, significant damages to trees and loss of vegetation due to a hurricane increase the chance of landslides and flooding, as reported in Japan in 2004.

Future steps

Most research and practical risk studies focus on estimating the likelihood of different individual extreme events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. It is often difficult to describe the risk of interconnected events especially when the events are not physically dependent. For example, two physically independent events, such as wildfire and next season’s rainfall, are related only by how fire later raises the chances of landslide and flooding.

As civil engineers, we see a need to be able to better understand the overall severity of these cascading disasters and their impacts on communities and the built environment. The need is more pronounced considering the fact that much of the nation’s critical infrastructure is aged and currently operate under rather marginal conditions.

A first step in solving the problem is gaining a better understanding of how severe these cascading events can be and the relationship each occurrence has with one another. We also need reliable methods for risk assessment. And a universal framework for addressing cascading disasters still needs to be developed.

A global system that can predict the interactions between natural and built environments could save millions of lives and billions of dollars. Most importantly, community outreach and public education must be prioritised, to raise awareness of the potential risks cascading hazards can cause.

The Conversation

Farshid Vahedifard, CEE Advisory Board Endowed Professor and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mississippi State University and Amir AghaKouchak, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.