The firings have become a showcase for the Obama administration’s new immigration policies which are vastly different than the previous administration's attacks on the workers. For those that recall the heinous ICE Raids in Postville, IA: In May, 2008, ICE raided the Agriprocessor´s plant in Postville, IA. At the time, it was the biggest ICE raid in U.S. History. The city of Postville was in an uproar. Six hundred workers were arrested and hoarded off to cattle barns in preparation for their transport to deplorable Detention Prisons in Texas. Agriprocessors and the town eventually went out of business.
In the Los Angeles raid, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency conducted an on-going audit with American Apparel. The investigation at American Apparel was started 17 months ago, under President George W. Bush. The Obama administration officials point out that they have not followed the Bush pattern of concluding such investigations with a mass round-up of workers. Those raids drew criticism for damaging businesses and dividing immigrant families. Immigration officials said they would now focus on employers, primarily wielding the threat of civil complaints and fines, instead of raids and worker deportation. “Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door,” Mr. Morton said. The goal, he said, is to create “a truly national deterrent” to hiring unauthorized labor that would “change the practices of American employers as a class.”
The employees being fired from American Apparel could not resolve discrepancies discovered by investigators in documents they presented at hiring and federal social security or immigration records — probably because the documents were fake. Peter Schey, a lawyer for American Apparel, said that ICE had cited deficiencies in its record keeping, but the authorities had not accused the company of knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. A fine threatened by the agency was withdrawn, Mr. Schey said.
Company Owner, Mr. Charney, is questioning why the authorities made a target of his company. Over the summer he joined his workers in a street protest against the firings. Because the immigration investigation is still underway, Mr. Charney declined to be interviewed for this article but did respond in an e-mail message. The firings “will not help the economy, will not make us safer,” he said. “No matter how we choose to define or label them,” he said, illegal immigrants “are hard-working, taxpaying workers.”
Some workers who are leaving said the company had been a close-knit community for them. Jesús, 30, originally from Puebla, Mexico, said he was hired 10 years ago as a sewing machine operator, then worked and studied his way up to an office job as coordinating manager. “I learned how to think here,” said Jesús, who asked that his last name not be used because of his illegal status. The company provides health and life insurance, he said, and he currently earns about $900 a week, with taxes deducted from his paycheck. Like many others, Jesús said his next move was to hunt for work in Los Angeles. He will not return to Mexico, he said, because he is gay and fears discrimination. “There they treat you and judge you without even knowing you,” Jesús said. But he said several job offers from mainstream garment makers had been withdrawn once he was asked for documents. “Being realistic,” he said, “I guess I’m going to have to go to one of those sweatshop companies where I’m going to get paid under the table.”
ICE has made no arrests so far at the factory. But Mr. Morton of ICE said the agency would not rule out pursuing workers proven to be illegal immigrants. Mr. Schey said company human resources managers had added new scrutiny to hiring procedures. But workers facing dismissal pointed to the line of job applicants outside the factory one recent day, who, like many of them, were almost all Spanish-speaking immigrants.
“I think the Americans think that garment sewing is demeaning work,” said Francisco, 38, a Guatemalan with nine years at the plant who is being forced to leave. A top supervisor, he is training new hires to replace him.
From my perspective, I think Obamigration Reform is a significant improvement vs the Bush/ICE Immigration policies, though not perfect. No more inhumane ICE Raids. No more heinous Detention Centers for entire families. Instead, company audits, working with company owners, release employees with insufficient documents and recruiting and hiring citizens. From an ANTI perspective, they should appreciate the significant cost savings of ICE Agents and privately owned (crony-owned) Private Prisons.