After the Raids

Colorlines, News report, Valeria Fernández Posted: Sep 04, 2008

ERASMA ZUNÚN LOPEZ lives a cautious life since the day she was arrested during an immigration raid almost two years ago. Now, doors are always double-locked and curtains are shut at her home. She lives near a police station in Greeley, Colorado, and she shivers any time she sees a police officer. She rushes back into her house when a white van approaches the station. She cries often for no immediate reason. Recurring nightmares haunt her. She no longer takes her eight grandchildren to the park a few blocks away. Her worst fear is to be separated from them again.

Lopez was one of 262 people who were arrested in 2006 when federal immigration agents raided the Swift & Company meatpacking plant in Greeley where she worked. About 1,300 workers were arrested at six of the company’s sites nationwide. Since the raid, justice has been postponed for at least 32 immigrant families like hers who live in legal limbo while they wait to see an immigration judge in October.

“They are stuck,” said Ricardo Romero, a Colorado immigrant rights activist. “They can’t work...what the hell are you doing giving them court dates two years after they’ve been arrested?”

"We used to have two checks coming in, now it's only one...we're limited in food [and] clothes, and gas is expensive." Many of the workers arrested in Greeley were Mexicans and Guatemalans, but the group also included Hondurans, Ethiopians and Laotians.

Among those from Mexico and Guatemala were many indigenous peoples from those countries who lived in families here with mixed documentation status. While they may not be citizens, they have U.S.-born children and spouses, or siblings who are citizens. Most of those arrested that day signed documents for voluntary deportation. Others, like Lopez, chose to fight in court to stay, even if their likelihood of winning was remote. Some who were deported have already crossed the border again and are back with their children and working in Greeley’s underground economy.

Al Frente de Lucha, a nonprofit organization run by Romero, has been helping 17 families with supplies and food coupons with the support of a local church, but help is running out.

Lopez worked for nine years at the Swift plant. It was a tough and dirty job, but it paid. She cleaned cattle carcasses with a knife, taking out hairs, grease and sometimes excrement. Her chest often hurt from the weight of lifting and turning the carcasses, and it still does.

The morning of the raid, the assembly line stopped earlier than usual, Lopez recalled. Workers were summoned to the cafeteria for a break.

After getting out of her metallic protective gear, Lopez heard the turmoil from a distance.

“¡La migra! ¡Es la migra!” It was too late to get away.

“Where are you going?” asked one of the security guards.

“I’m going to the restroom,” she answered.

She admits now that she was lying. “I was too afraid they’d take me away. I wouldn’t see my grandchildren.”

Her husband, Jorge Martinez, arrived in disbelief at the plant as he saw his wife carried into one of the last buses; she was handcuffed at her hands and feet.

Several families live together in one house out of fear that another raid will come. “They were taking them like criminals,” described Martinez. “They had helicopters [and] vans. Children were crying outside, ‘mamá, papá.’ Police were pushing the desperate crowd back.” He had never seen anything like that in his 20 years of living in the U.S.

A couple of blocks from his house, ICE was knocking on doors and taking people from their homes.

That very day, Martinez went to school to pick up his niece’s 9-year-old son. She had also been arrested and, shortly after, deported. Like many other people, she came back across the border, breaking a foot on the trip across.

“There are still children to this date [who] don’t have their parent by their side,” Martinez said with sorrow and anger. “Who gave them a diaper, a taco? Who cared to pick them up from school? Can’t the government see what it’s doing to its own children?”

Martinez’s and Lopez’s stories reflect the complicated maze of legalizing one’s status. Originally from Chiapas, Mexico, Martinez had recently become a U.S. citizen and applied to legalize his wife’s status. Because Lopez had entered the country illegally, she would have to go back to Mexico and wait until the process was completed, which would take years. The very same regulations requiring immigrants to return to Mexico also bar them from returning to the U.S. if they entered the country and remained illegally.

“I didn’t want to separate the family, nor take my grandchildren to a land that is not their own,” said Martinez.

Life has changed dramatically since the raid.

“We used to have two checks coming in, now it’s only one,” said Martinez. “We’re limited in food [and] clothes, and gas is expensive.” He works the 10 p.m.-to-7 a.m. night shift at the local Wal-Mart, waxing floors for $11.50 an hour.

“If I don’t work those hours, I can’t buy a gallon of milk,” said Martinez, a U.S. citizen who now supports his eight U.S.-born grandchildren and won’t allow his son and two daughters, who are undocumented, to work with fake papers.

The town of Greeley itself also hasn’t been quite the same since las redadas (the raids). Commerce City, the local flea market, doesn’t see as many Latino families as there used to be, according to Martinez. “The color of our skin condemns us,” he said about his fear of being detained by the police even though he is a U.S. citizen.

Greeley has always been a city split in two. The western side is where most of the white population concentrates, and Latinos largely live on the eastern side near the giant Swift & Company meatpacking plant. The town has long been an agricultural hub, and in recent decades the meatpacking industry has attracted an immigrant workforce. Latinos are about one-third of the almost 94,000 residents in the town.

The raids brought to the surface the divisive politics behind immigration.

“Most people realized they were hiring all kinds of workers there, some documented and some not, but they were winking or pretending it wasn’t happening,” said Steve Brown, a retired pastor from Family of Christ Presbyterian Church. “When the raid happened, it got ugly. We started seeing articles saying ‘Send them all home,’ ‘Kick the illegals out of here’ [and] ‘They don’t have rights.’”

Tom Selders, the city’s two-term Republican mayor, didn’t get reelected after speaking out against the raids in Washington D.C. and endorsing a Senate immigration reform proposal that was equated with amnesty. Critics of the mayor and supporters of federal worksite enforcement blamed illegal immigration for a rise in violent crime in the town and $36 million in uncollected bills at the local hospital. Weld County District Attorney Kenneth Buck was involved in the prosecution of 20 identity theft cases related to the raids and even suggested establishing a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office.

Over the last two years, ICE—the interior enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security—has stepped up its worksite crackdowns, nearly doubling the number of workers arrested. Immigrant workers are increasingly criminally charged with identity theft for using fraudulent social security numbers and a fake name to get a job.
Meanwhile, only about 90 owners, supervisors or hiring officials were arrested in fiscal year 2007, compared with nearly 4,900 arrests that involved undocumented workers, fake document providers and others, according to figures from ICE. In the first quarter of 2008, 75 owners were arrested, compared to more than 3,675 workers.

In May, ICE agents arrested 389 workers when they raided the Agriproccesors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. More than 297 workers were criminally charged and sentenced during the same month in mass judicial hearings.

The increased crackdown and criminalization of workers are drawing criticism from immigrant rights advocates, who are fearful that this will become the future trend for law enforcement. A report produced by the National Council of La Raza in conjunction with the Urban Institute documents the inadequacy of government provisions for tending to the needs of families and the children caught in the middle of these raids. The report estimates that there are 5 million children in the country who are citizens and have at least one immigrant parent who is undocumented.

As a result of the increased crackdown, local communities like Greeley have been left to improvise solutions.

Shortly after the raids, Ricardo Romero realized he needed to move quicker than most organizations do to get aid to families. He managed to raise $30,000 worth of food, baby formula, diapers, clothing and other items. But that’s no longer the case.

“The money is dried up…after so long…we don’t have any money coming,” he said.
The Family of Christ Presbyterian Church, a 60-member congregation, received a $15,000 grant from the national Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Fund in 2007. They were able to help more than 24 families for a period of a year with $100 food coupons, but the money ran out at the beginning of June.

“People are frightened to seek help,” said Ann Ratcliffe, a church member and local resident who helped with the efforts. “We’re trying to figure out what our next step will be.”
Families like Marina Vicente’s rely heavily on this aid. She is a stay-at-home mother with four children. “Thank God people like Ricardo help us,” said Vicente, who is part of the K’iche’ community in Greely that was largely impacted by the raids. “I don’t have work. It’s only beans and tortillas.”

Vicente was six months pregnant when ICE detained her at the meatpacking plant. The emotional ordeal was so massive she had a nervous breakdown. She was afraid it would hurt her baby, but her daughter Laura, who recently turned a year old, is healthy.

“I’m traumatized with what happened. I’ll beg God so I can forget,” said Vicente, whose court date is in October. “I was raised to earn my food with the sweat of my brows…If they decide to send me back, I’ll leave.”

There are jobs available in Greeley, but many immigrants won’t dare take them.
Some families have started selling Mexican and Guatemalan homemade tamales. Others have taken on informal work cleaning yards or doing domestic and handyman work. A couple decided to take the chance of working in the carrot fields. Several families live together in one house out of fear that another raid will come.

“If times are bad here, can you imagine how much worse it gets in our countries?” said Ernesto Sichy Garcia, a Guatemalan immigrant. He and his wife, Isaura Sontay, were arrested in the raids. They don’t have children, but sometimes they still find it hard to pay rent. A local banker gave them a place to live and often excuses them when they are late with a payment.

Garcia started working at the Swift plant two years before the raid because a friend convinced him he could make more money than working on the ranches, where he made between $5 and $7 an hour. “I was paying taxes I could never claim,” he said.

After being held for four months in an immigration detention center in Texas, Garcia returned to find that many of his Guatemalan family members were gone. “They didn’t explain anything to us—just ‘sign here,’ and that’s the end of it,” he said. “I wasn’t about to sign anything without an explanation.”

Many families are anxiously awaiting the October decision of a judge who will dictate their future in the U.S. Lopez clings to the hope she will be allowed to stay to continue to raise her grandchildren. “If Gods grants me this wish, I [will] stay here,” she said.

Valeria Fernández is a reporter for La Voz newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona.

NAM immigration coverage

When An Immigrant Mom Gets Arrested

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User Comments

SPQR_US on Sep 22, 2008 at 09:56:06 said:

Man this is frustrating. These liars are disgusting and have a delusional sense of entitlement. Whya re they still here? They were arrested 2 years ago. Now I read that they are COMING BACK ILLEGALLY!!! Where are the police!? Race has nothing to do with this there peopel are all felons and criminals Mexico throws people in jail for 2 years for illegal entry and more if they catch you working.

Thsi stupid woman and her family claim they live in fear...Idiots all they have to do is stop BREAKING OUR LAWS. If they hate it so much they know how to fix the problem: STOP BREAKING IMMIGRATION LAW. but no that isn't what they want they want to keep stealign from us and they are upset that they face consequences for their stealing.

Call ICE today! To report any suspicious activity please call 1-866-347-2423

ransome on Sep 06, 2008 at 14:58:12 said:

New York Times

E.U. Passes Tough Migrant Measure

Published: June 19, 2008

STRASBOURG, France — European Union lawmakers voted Wednesday to allow undocumented migrants to be held in detention centers for up to 18 months and banned from European Union territory for five years.

The European Union has 224 detention centers for migrants, with capacity for 30,871 people. National regulations on how long migrants can be confined vary; in France, it is 32 days; in Germany, 18 months. Eight European Union countries have no time limit. European legislators visiting Denmark in April said they were concerned about some detainees who had been held for eight years.

Ransomes on Sep 06, 2008 at 12:35:21 said:

Spain closing door on migrant workers
The Associated Press

Friday, September 5th 2008, 10:37 AM

MADRID, Spain — Spain's government defended a plan to fight soaring unemployment by shutting the door on foreign workers, fending off criticism that the idea is mean-spirited and futile.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Friday the government had no choice but to respond to the needs of the labor market.

The Socialist government has been under fire from unions, immigrant advocacy groups and opposition parties since the labor minister announced this week the number of work visas granted abroad to people eager to take low-skill jobs in Spain "will get close to zero."

Will C. on Sep 06, 2008 at 07:45:29 said:

If they are the Mexican government better plan to share the cost of repatriating their people! We do not need any immigration reform here! Our current law is adequate. What we need is more enforcement to protect United States citizens from the unwanted invasion of Mexicans.
Wish the U.S. could spend the billions on illegal Mexicans on building the Mexican economy instead. Shameful Mexico can't do it by themselves. Maybe there still some Mexi-CANS left in Mexico. The current group has no "Can do" attitude to help themsleves.
The U.S. is stepping up enforcement and deportment. That will continue. All illegal aliens will be deported...

Samantha Bracken on Sep 05, 2008 at 19:43:16 said:

america only has itself to blame because everybody voted for that idiot george bush

Ransome on Sep 05, 2008 at 18:36:02 said:

More Mexicans Coming to U.S.

La Opinion, Posted: Aug 25, 2008

MEXICO CITY—The Mexican government has acknowledged that more Mexicans are coming to the United States to seek employment, according to La Opinion. Ana Teresa Aranda from the National Council on Population, said that the current annual emigration is 580,000, a 12 percent increase from last year. She said that about 93 percent of Mexicans in the United States came after the 1970s, and so far only 21.5 percent have citizenship, which she attributes to the failure of passing comprehensive immigration reform and U.S. foreign policy. Arnada urged the U.S. government to implement immigration reform that recognizes the role of Mexican workers "in building prosperity for the United States" and acknowledges "a profound interdependence between both nations."

Piper on Sep 05, 2008 at 16:28:23 said:

This article demonstrates the urgent need for immigration reform. Workplace and home raids rip communities like Greeley apart. Enforcement does not end immigration and it erodes the rights of workers. When an immigrant or citizen is afraid to complain for fear of retribution from an unjust system, that hurts everyone's bargaining rights and abilities. When employers can cow workers by threatening them with deportation, that hurts everyone's wages.

The problem is the two-tiered system our government supports, not the immigrant worker. A system which pits workers against one another instead of allowing them to demand their rights together. A system which allows jobs and goods to cross borders, but not people. A system in which the employer has more and more power and the worker less.

Immigrants enrich our communities. Our history is full of the cultural and scientific contributions of immigrants and the xenophobic reaction of those around them. The rhetoric now is the same as that of Benjamin Franklin, who wanted to deny Pennsylvania statehood because there were too many Germans living there who would never acculturate or learn English, who lived too many to a house, who would never be loyal to this country, and who were sure to degrade the Anglo culture.

As a country, we will only move forward when our communities are whole again and all have equal rights to work.

Will C. on Sep 04, 2008 at 21:51:27 said:

Soon, Valeria Fernandez and other reporters for the illegal alien communities will be reporting about the pain of even more deportments for their people. Very sad, since the crimes against citizens are so hard to withstand, while illegal aliens only have themselves to blame for their misery!

All I can say is we genuine citiznes feel much pain too. We are very much impacted by every illegal alien in our midst, and pay dearly for what you illegals are so hell-bent to steal!

Illegal aliens are coming here at an enormous rate at there own peril!
They also have babies as fast as they while in residence here to obtain "anchor baby" parent status as an illegal resident, or use any deception, method, or outward act to legitimize, or mask their theft of residency. That includes stealing social security numbers and using phoney documentation. This too will change, and is changing. Enforcement is getting a lot better everyday!

The genuine American citizen is paying an enormous price for those who come here illegally and corrupt our legal and benefit system. Illegal aliens do not belong here and have no right to prevail upon the U.S. citizen in any manner. They are selfish squatters stealing what they want for residency, while paying nothing for it.

Although illegal alien advocates feed us a steady diet of the plight of the illegal alien, and try to take advantage of human decency and pity, our largess in their behalf only goes so far. The cries of illegal aliens are no longer being heard by the majority of citizens who are completely and fully aware with the knowledge of how illegal alien residency has impacted our system, civil order, and the citizen's way of life.

We are rejecting your lawlessness and your invasion! You do not understand that the U.S. system only survives if we all
obey the laws of the United States! Srict immigration laws were enacted in the United States, and other countries to protect the bonafide citizen from displacement, from both his home and his job.

Citizens of this country pay dearly for each illegal resident here, in several not so obvious ways. Law enforcement costs, educational expenses, and the cost of apprehension and deportment of illegal aliens, not to mention accomodation in our court system, and the personal injuries and losses sustained by citizens at the hands of an illegal alien.

Citizens expect the government to defend us from illegal aliens using every means possible. We expect and demand that Federal Judges not legislate from the bench in support of illegal alien continuance and aggrandizement in any form. We also expect the Church to uphold truth and honesty, and not harbor, shelter and assist illegal aliens, unless it is to help them understand and go home!

To the illegal alien, I will tell you please expect to be deported. It doesn't matter what color you are, or from where you originate if you are here illegally. You have no valid, genuine documentation to be here. I would suggest you leave now, if you are residing in the United States without documentation. Enforcement will become much stronger soon. You will be deported forcefully soon.

We have have no choice. You have chosen to ignore our laws and thumb your nose at us by taking what is not yours by being here illegally. You will be deported! Go home now and sacrifice your life to making condtions better in your country of origin...

Marty on Sep 04, 2008 at 19:23:37 said:

Hmmmm Let's see....illegally in this country...using stolen social security numbers (a class C felony) to illegally work in this country and commit social security and other fraud (I have desk drawers full of folders with stories by government workers saying illegal aliens use stolen and fraudulent social security numbers, file under different names and multiple numbers, receive multiple payments and the list goes on) ruining the lives of Americans from identity theft resulting in loss of homes, denial of social security entitlements upon retirement or loss of a spouse, denial of unemployment insurance, bills from the IRS for taxes accumulated by illegal aliens using stolen social numbers, American citizens wrongfully charged with crimes committed by illegal aliens using their social security numbers (I have folders full of this too) while taking jobs from Americans.....having children while illegally here at taxpayer expense under medicare (a program paid for by taxpayers to help taxpayers but is on the verge of bankruptcy resulting in benefits cuts to senior citizens, poor Americans and others who are losing their jobs....Illegal aliens receiving tax payer funded health care including chemotherapy, dialysis and organ transplants as an illegal alien liver transplantee in California while a 9-11 first responder who developed kidney disease soon after 9-11 was denied a kidney transplant, a citizen in Oregon was denied chemotherapy and another citizen died from colon cancer because he had no health insurance and thus couldn't afford chemotherapy, Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans facing loss of homes and financial ruin because they are unable to receive treatment for combat disabilities including traumatic brain injury while an illegal alien who showed utter contempt and lack of respect for our border,laws and sovereignty was in a Chicago hospital for a brain injury forcing taxpayers to cover his care at a cost of 500,000 dollars while millions of Americans are forced to file for bankruptcy when faced with major medical events. And you wonder why 80 percent of Americans disapprove of and resent those who are ILLEGALLY here. Americans are forced to take care of those ILLEGALLY here at tax payer expense while losing their homes, jobs, pensions and health care and have to compete with the never ending flood of impoverished humanity pouring into this country for OUR health care, land, food, water, energy and other LIMITED resources aided and abetted by corrupt organizations and media as you who couldn't give a damn about the American people and believe what we have accumulated through hard work and sacrifice should be taken and given to those who disregard another nation's right to secure it's borders and protect it's sovereignty and LEGAL citizens. It isn't a matter of race or xenophobia but is about fairness and equity to already overburdened taxpayers just struggling to survive.

If you think illegal aliens do the jobs Americans aren't willing to do read the below:

Raid at a leather factory in Massachusetts where illegal aliens were employed as slave laborers working 12 to 14 hours a day with some disciplined for using the restroom, child labor was prevalent and illegal alien workers were paid below minimum wage. Americans were lined up outside the facility and down the sidewalk the day following the raid for those vacated jobs in an area with high unemployment. The employer raised wages and offered benefits.

A DOD contractor in North Carolina fabricating parachutes employed an all illegal alien workforce in another high unemployment area during a war on terror. As with all raids illegal aliens had stolen social security numbers and again Americans lined up outside the facility where the employer also raised wages and offered retirement and other benefits.

An electrical manufacturer in Mississippi employed 595 illegal aliens again in another area with high unemployment(they were found with stolen social security numbers). Hundreds of Americans applied for those vacated jobs and several were interviewed who lost jobs including one who previously worked at this plant and was replaced by an illegal alien and another American who lost her home because of job cuts.
All the above has been repeated numerous times throughout the U.S. yet you continue to spew the usual drivel that illegal aliens do the jobs Americans won't do despite the fact they work under slave labor conditions, are paid below minimum wage and are physically and mentally abused.

Do you really care so damn little about people that you condone the use of slave labor, child labor, physical and mental abuse and theft of American's identities all uncovered during raids which you also oppose and the loss of jobs to Americans in these lousy economic times? Why aren't you and other organizations as LaRaza protesting the corrupt governments of those illegally here demanding they use the massive wealth held by elites in those governments to improve the lives of their citizens instead of foisting their problems on the backs of struggling taxpayers with you and them expecting us to take care of them?
Where is your answer as I never seem to receive one from you as you hide under your desks to avoid the issue and only cast aspersions at the hard working, honest tax paying LEGAL citizens of this nation.

Retired Air Force, 24 Years Service
Combat Disabled
I have to pay for my health care for lifetime disabilities from military service.




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