a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

New ICE age for labor?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 31st, 2007

The recent ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) raids at the troubled Smithfield Tar Heel meat processing plant may be the harbinger of a new unionbusting tactic, judging by ICE director Julie Myers’ comments to the annual University of Chicago Legal Forum last year. Last October law professor Jennifer Chacon (UC Davis) wrote, at “ImmigrationProf Blog”:

Ms. Myers briefly noted that, as unions increasingly provide representation for undocumented workers, “we need to look at” whether these activities cross the line into criminal conduct, such as harboring. When later asked to clarify those remarks, Ms. Myers appeared to back off the statement, emphazing that it is just something that “we need to think about.”

Writing at The Nation in early January, Rick Perlstein reported more of Myers’ remarks:

“In order to have a better America,” Myers pronounced, ICE was busy catching undocumented immigrants before they could commit “criminal and in some cases even terrorist acts.”

Chacon was not the only one who noticed Myers’ remark about “need[ing] to look at” unions’ breaking the boundary between “charitable assistance and the unlawful employment of aliens.” Perlstein:

Several lawyers were soon on the phone with labor officials trying to figure out what she meant. Is an ICE crackdown on labor organizing drives imminent? Was one already under way? Were unions harboring undocumented immigrants in violation of the law?

As Perlstein points out, the notion makes little to no sense. Earth to Myers: unions don’t employ, they organize. It’s companies that employ — and under federal law (the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, or IRCA), they’re the ones who are (theoretically) on the hook for knowingly hiring illegal alien workers; the same law specifically exempts unions, which organize workers after they’re hired.

But according to Perlstein, IRCA enforcement has been so lax that companies can easily afford to be scofflaws — and then use the fear of deportation to undermine organized labor action by the resulting workforce. He cites Yale law professor Michael Wishnie, who found that 54% of ICE raids occur at workplaces with active labor disputes. Chacon had written similarly:

Although they are technically protected by laws such as the National Labor Relations Act, decisions such as the 2002 Hoffman Plastics decision have sharply limited the degree to which such workers can actually claim remedies under these law. This creates a perverse incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire undocumented migrants and then to ignore wage and workplace protection laws. When undocumented workers try to organize to improve working conditions, the employer can engage in retaliatory firings, knowing that these workers will not be entitled to the same remedies that would be available to citizen workers.

For his part, Perlstein proposes Congress find out just what Myers — a controversial recess appointment with more connections than experience — has to say for herself on the subject.

For my part, were I a cynical blogger type of fellow, I’d note that once again the struggle to keep us safe from “terrorist acts” seems to have a political and financial payoff for the Bush administration and its corporate allies. But no worries: I’m sure that just like the political commissars Bush wants to create, recess appointments like Myers will do just fine keeping their agencies at the DHS focused on Job One.

NOTE: Chacon and Perlstein items via Kevin Johnson (also of “ImmigrationProf Blog”); thanks to Brett Marston for the tip.

4 Responses to “New ICE age for labor?”

  1. Nell Says:

    This regime is just one big web of nepotism and patronage for ideologically correct Republicans, isn’t it? I’m assuming she’s the daughter of Gen. Richard Myers, and I seem to recall reading something yesterday (on TPM?) about her husband playing a similarly right-wing role in a job for which he had no qualifications other than political.

  2. Nell Says:

    I wasn’t imagining it; he’s among the list of new U.S. Attorneys that have been appointed based on loyalty rather than qualifications:
    John Wood, the husband of assistant secretary of homeland security Julie Myers and an ex-deputy general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget, U.S. attorney in Kansas City.

  3. Nell Says:

    54% of ICE raids occur at workplaces with active labor disputes
    That’s an astounding figure, even for cynical observers.

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Yes, Perlstein says she’s the “wife of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s chief of staff and niece of former JCS chief Richard Myers.” Great catch tying hubbie into the other recent executive branch putsch story, the running US D.A. massacre. Maybe there’s a bright side here: the pool of zombie true believers is so small they have to cycle the same family through multiple positions.
    I’m going to be looking for the Wishnie item next, in case he provides the percentage of workplaces with active labor disputes. I assume it’s much, much smaller than 54%.

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