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.

 
 
 
 

“A story of incompetence, arrogance, privilege and power”: A brief history of the Garden Bridge

Ewwww. Image: Heatherwick.

Labour assembly member Tom Copley on a an ignominious history.

The publication last week of the final bill for Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge has once again pushed this fiasco into the headlines.

As well as an eye-watering £43m bill for taxpayers for this Johnsonian indulgence, what has been revealed this week is astonishing profligacy by the arms-length vehicle established to deliver it: the Garden Bridge Trust. The line by line account of their spending reveals £161,000 spent on their website and £400,000 on a gala fundraising event, amongst many other eyebrow raising numbers. 

Bear in mind that back in 2012, Johnson promised that the bridge would be entirely privately funded. The bridge’s most ardent advocate, Joanna Lumley, called it a “tiara for the Thames” and “a gift for London”. Today, the project would seem the very opposite of a “gift”.

The London Assembly has been scrutinising this project since its inception, and I now chair a working group tasked with continuing our investigation. We are indebted to the work of local campaigners around Waterloo as well as Will Hurst of the Architects Journal, who has brought many of the scandals surrounding the project into the open, and who was the subject of an extraordinary public attack by Johnson for doing so.

Yet every revelation about this cursed project has thrown up more questions than it has answers, and it’s worth reminding ourselves just how shady and rotten the story of this project has been.

There was Johnson’s £10,000 taxpayer funded trip to San Francisco to drum up sponsorship for the Thomas Heatherwick garden bridge design, despite the fact that TfL had not at that point even tendered for a designer for the project.

The design contest itself was a sham, with one of the two other architects TfL begged to enter in an attempt to create the illusion of due process later saying they felt “used”. Heatherwick Studios was awarded the contract and made a total of £2.7m from taxpayers from the failed project.


Soon after the bridge’s engineering contract had been awarded to Arup, it was announced that TfL’s then managing director of planning, Richard de Cani, was departing TfL for a new job – at Arup. He continued to make key decisions relating to the project while working his notice period, a flagrant conflict of interest that wouldn’t have been allowed in the civil service. Arup received more than £13m of taxpayer cash from the failed project.

The tendering process attracted such concern that the then Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy, ordered an internal audit of it. The resulting report was a whitewash, and a far more critical earlier draft was leaked to the London Assembly.

As concerns about the project grew, so did the interventions by the bridge’s powerful advocates to keep it on track. Boris Johnson signed a mayoral direction which watered down the conditions the Garden Bridge Trust had to meet in order to gain access to further public money, exposing taxpayers to further risk. When he was hauled in front of the London Assembly to explain this decision, after blustering for while he finally told me that he couldn’t remember.

David Cameron overruled the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the project’s government credit line. And George Osborne was at one point even more keen on the Garden Bridge than Johnson himself. The then chancellor was criticised by the National Audit Office for bypassing usual channels in order to commit funding to it. Strangely, none of the project’s travails have made it onto the pages of the London Evening Standard, a paper he now edits. Nor did they under his predecessor Sarah Sands, now editor of the Today Programme, another firm advocate for the Garden Bridge.

By 2016 the project appeared to be in real trouble. Yet the Garden Bridge Trust ploughed ahead in the face of mounting risks. In February 2016, despite having not secured the land on the south bank to actually build the bridge on, nor satisfied all their planning consents, the Trust signed an engineering contract. That decision alone has cost the taxpayer £21m.

Minutes of the Trust’s board meetings that I secured from TfL (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Trust itself) reveal that weeks beforehand Thomas Heatherwick had urged the trustees to sign the contract in order to demonstrate “momentum”.

Meanwhile TfL, which was represented at board meetings by Richard de Cani and so should’ve been well aware of the mounting risks to the project, astonishingly failed to act in interests of taxpayers by shutting the project down.

Indeed, TfL allowed further public money to be released for the project despite the Trust not having satisfied at least two of the six conditions that had been set by TfL in order to protect the public purse. The decision to approve funding was personally approved by Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, who has never provided an adequate explanation for his decision.

The story of the Garden Bridge project is one of incompetence, arrogance and recklessness, but also of privilege and power. This was “the great and the good” trying to rig the system to force upon London a plaything for themselves wrapped up as a gift.

The London Assembly is determined to hold those responsible to account, and we will particularly focus on TfL’s role in this mess. However, this is not just a London issue, but a national scandal. There is a growing case for a Parliamentary inquiry into the project, and I would urge the Public Accounts Committee to launch an investigation. 

The Garden Bridge may seem like small beer compared to Brexit. But there is a common thread: Boris Johnson. It should appal and outrage us that this man is still being talked about as a potential future Prime Minister. His most expensive vanity project, now dead in the water, perhaps serves as an unwelcome prophecy for what may be to come should he ever enter Number 10.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.