Jackson, MS – On Thursday, the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity (IAJE Mississippi) presented a petition and letter to President Biden’s Labor Department officials. Workers and their allies are calling on the new Administration to undo the harms committed by the Trump Administration against Indigenous, undocumented immigrant communities in Mississippi, starting with removing the threat of deportation for factory workers and their families impacted by ICE’s 2019 workplace raids.
“President Biden, basta ya, stop the empty promises, take action to grant what you promised. Use your power undo the harm, to protect us, that starts with work authorization, and with visas for those who file grievances- that is the pathway to citizenship,” said Jose Efrain Nunez, Director of Organizing for IAJE in Jackson, Mississippi.
In 2019, in one of Trump and ICE’s most brutal, racist and anti-immigrant worker actions, over 680 factory workers in central Mississippi were targeted, rounded up, and detained. Two years later, workers are still suffering from those raids- many were deported, many still are detained, and many still work at the same factories where raids took place, in the midst of the pandemic, with the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads.
ICE’s 2019 workplace raids occurred after Koch Food of Mississippi lost a 3.75 million dollar lawsuit brought on by workers at their Morton, MS plant. The lawsuit alleged sexual harassment, retaliation, national origin and race discrimination.
Hundreds of individuals signed onto the petition, and over 40 organizations across Mississippi and across the country signed onto the letter, led by IAJE on behalf of Mississippi immigrant workers to President Biden. Several of those organizations added their voices of support during the press conference.
“Our message is simple. We demand the President of the United States exercise ordinary human decency and uplift, promote, and protect the human rights of Indigenous and immigrant workers,” said Cynthia Newhall of Tougaloo College’s Institute for the Study of Modern Day Slavery, one of dozens of signers of the letter to President Biden.
Combined with the attacks by Trump and ICE, the crisis for undocumented and indigenous working families in Mississippi has been exacerbated by the deliberate exclusion from COVID19 relief by both state and federal government.
“These raids traumatized communities, separated families, and instilled a culture of fear and mistrust that still makes it harder to report dangerous conditions and abuses in the workplace. Every worker regardless of their immigration status deserves safety and dignity on the job. Let us remember that immigrant workers have always been essential and not disposable,” Vidhi Bamazi, Staff Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis for already vulnerable workers that subsidize the Mississippi and national economy. Lea Campbell of the Mississippi Rising Coalition added, “Our communities are safer, economies stronger, and cultures richer because [immigrants] are here.”
Immigrant leaders and allies are planning a series of events throughout the month of April to call on President Biden to undo those harms resulting from Trump and ICE’s racist attacks in Mississippi — to bring people home, defer deportations, release those who are still detained, provide the work authorization to keep workers safe, and pardon those who suffered convictions in connection to ICE’s raids, including ID theft related to working, or for returning to their families.
“There is much that President Biden, and his incoming Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, can do- right now- to address the human rights and labor abuses committed by Trump and ICE. Doing so would also challenge the constant dehumanization of immigrant, working people, that is also a crisis in this country today,” said Salvador G Sarmiento of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
“Mississippi’s immigrant workers, today, are showing what it means to show courage, let’s hope that our national leaders follow their lead,” added Sarmiento.
Last month, on March 16, IAJE, NDLON and Mississippi and national ally organizations sent a letter to President Biden requesting he utilize executive authority to undo the harms and consequences of Trump’s workplace raids, beginning by bringing home workers that have been deported or are still detained, and granting work authorization for workers impacted by ICE raids.
To date, over 40 organizations had joined the request to the Biden Administration as it was delivered on Thursday.