A Detention Center Vigil That Defies La MIGRA

copyright 2018 David Bacon

RICHMOND, CA – 1AUGUST15 – People from St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley hold a vigil outside the Richmond Detention Center, where immigrants are incarcerated before being deported. Recent refugees from Guatemala and Mexico talk about the terrifying experiences that forced them to leave their homes. St. John’s church has given them sanctuary.

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.

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How Unions Help Immigrants Resist Deportation

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.

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MIGRATION, LABOR AND U.S. POLICY

By David Bacon
Dollars and Sense – September/October 2017

Pablo Alvarado (center), staff person for the Day Labor Union, tries to convince a group of day laborers getting work on the corner at Sunset Blvd. to instead go to the Hollywood day labor site administered by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. The site is an alternative to the shape-up, where workers wait on a corner for a contractor to come by and offer them work.Off Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, 6/18/98

One winter morning in Los Angeles, a group of health care activists set up a street-corner clinic for day laborers. One of the day laborers who lined up for medical tests was Omar Sierra. He got to the head of the line and then took his seat at the testing station. A nurse tied off his arm and inserted the needle to draw blood, when all of a sudden Migra agents came running across the street. Everybody panicked and ran. Omar tore off the tourniquet, ripped out the needle, and ran as well. He was lucky that day, because he escaped. But a lot of his friends didn’t. So when he got home, disturbed about what had happened, he decided to write a song about it, which for a while became the anthem of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

I’m going to sing you a story friends
That will make you cry
How one day in front of K-Mart
The Migra came down on us
Sent by the sheriff
Of this very same place …

We don’t understand why
We don’t know the reason
Why there is so much
Discrimination against us
In the end we’ll wind up all the same in the grave …

With this verse I leave you
I’m tired of singing
Hoping the Migra
Won’t come after us again
Because in the end we all have to work.

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