Paola was standing outside the West County Detention Facility, a prison in Richmond, California for 150 to 300 people awaiting deportation, when she got the phone call. She’d been fearing it for days. Florencio, her husband, was in another detention center in Arizona, calling to tell her that la migra (immigration agents) had caught him in the desert, walking north with a dozen others.
Paola (not her real name) hadn’t spoken to Florencio for several weeks, not since the day before he crawled into the luggage compartment of a bus in Puebla in southern Mexico. The bus, he hoped, would take him close to the U.S. border.
It had already been a harrowing journey for himself and Paola’s brother Lorenzo. “After we left Guatemala and crossed the river into Mexico, we wound up in a kind of camp in Chiapas,” Florencio recalls. “There were hundreds of people there.” When the day to leave on the long trip north finally arrived, the coyotes running the camp organized a kind of shape up. It was not that different from the stories told by an earlier generation of migrants, the braceros (contract farm laborers), who remember being herded together at Mexican way stations, inspected and shipped to the border between 1942 and 1964.
by David Bacon, copyright 2018
The American Prospect, February 13, 2018
In San Francisco janitors and other workers support AB 450, a bill to protect workers during immigration raids and enforcement actions.
Labor historian Fred Glass, looking at the impact of immigration on California’s labor movement, notes that many immigrants have arrived in the state with a long history of labor and left-wing activism. Unions have then called on that history and consciousness to aid in organizing drives among janitors, farm workers, hotel housekeepers, and others. “Because the labor movement has understood this fact and designed its efforts around it,” he argues, “California’s unionization rate remains at 16 percent while the national average is 11 percent.” The state has 2.55 million union members, far more than any other.
To union leaders, that’s also one explanation-in addition to the state designating itself as a sanctuary-for the announcement by the Trump administration that it is targeting California for intensive workplace immigration enforcement. “It’s obvious retaliation for California standing up for immigrants,” charges Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE Local 2850, the hotel union in the East and North San Francisco Bay Area. “Its purpose is to create a climate of fear among immigrant workers in general, and to attack the unions that have defended them.”
Last fall the state legislature passed a series of bills intended to protect immigrants, especially immigrant workers. One bars police from asking about immigration status and from participating in immigration enforcement actions with federal agents. A second requires warrants before employers can give agents access to workplaces and records of workers’ immigration status.
Jacqueline is seven years old. “I feel really bad because I can’t do anything for her,” Maria Pozar says. “Even the doctor says he can’t do anything – that she’s suffering from the dust in the air. Most of the children in North Shore have this problem. He just says not to let them play outside.”
The children of North Shore are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, whose sudden illnesses warn of a greater, life-threatening disaster to come. That disaster is the rapidly receding waters of the Salton Sea. As more and more playa – the sea’s mud shoreline – emerges from the water and dries out, fine particles get swept up by the wind and coat everything in its path, including children’s noses.