From the Archives: Immigration Raids Make Latino Workers the Enemy

Child crouched in front of toys and a sign against ICE

Hundreds of thousands lived in fear in the early weeks of May 1982 as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) carried out “Operation Jobs”. Another round of immigration raids this summer shows that this repression continues. Photo: Flickr account Becker1999, CC-BY-2.0, cropped from the original.

This article is presented as part of our ongoing series of stories from our archives. It originally appeared in Labor Notes # 40 published on May 26, 1982. -Editors.

James Gonzalez ran in panic from the agents of La Migra who raided the Boulder Valley Poultry Farm in Boulder, Colorado. He ran from the farm into the main road and was run down by a gravel truck and killed. Gonzalez’s real name turned out to be Jose Morales, an undocumented worker.

My friend Juana, who works in a laundry, called me up at the community organization on the north side of Chicago where I work. “Daniel,” she said, “I’m afraid to go to work. My husband is out of town, and the children will be home all alone. What shall I do?”

Jose Morales was killed, thousands of workers were deported, and hundreds of thousands like Juana lived in fear in the early weeks of May as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) carried out “Operation Jobs”—a reign of terror in immigrant communities and workplaces.

PANIC AMONG CENTRAL AMERICANS

Throughout the country, workers stayed away from work; some businesses were forced to close. Church attendance in Spanish-speaking congregations dropped off; students’ attendance at English G.E.D. classes declined. A panic seized the immigrant communities, particularly the Central Americans for whom deportation can mean death at the hands of the dictators in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Some 400 INS agents in many major cities arrested 5,440 undocumented workers and deported 4,071. Over 90 percent of those arrested were Hispanic; most of them were from Mexico but they included immigrants from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Guatemala. In Chicago, a number of Poles were arrested.

Many ethnic, religious, civil rights, and labor organizations—including the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in Chicago—protested these raids.

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Ted L. Georgetti, assistant director of the INS in Chicago, said, “There is widespread unemployment … and there are indications that a number of illegals are holding jobs that should go to citizens. If this is politically motivated, I don’t think it is wrong.”

The government clearly doesn’t expect to solve the problem of over 10 million unemployed worker by arresting some 5,000 undocumented workers. Nor does its raid make a dent in the estimated 7.5 million undocumented workers in the country or those entering at a rate of 500,000 a year. Why then the raids?

The Reagan administration is attempting to blame the undocumented workers for unemployment and to make white and black workers see the “foreigners” as responsible for taking away their jobs. It is an attempt, as crude as it is cruel, to divide the U.S. working class.

More subtly, the Reagan administration is attempting to focus the attention of the U.S. worker against the foreigner, particularly against Hispanics, as the cause of this country’s problems.

PATCO WAS ILLEGAL TOO

The INS arrests were not only carried out by the same President who arrested PATCO strikers, they are part of the same attack—an attack on labor. Remember, the PATCO strikers were made “illegal.” Regan struck first at a somewhat better-paid group of professional workers, feeling they would be isolated from the bulk of the organized labor movement. Now he strikes at the lowest-paid immigrant, minority workers, feeling they too are isolated from the mass of unionized workers. The strong sectors of organized labor have a responsibility to support the weaker, to defend the undocumented worker.

PATCO proved the government was prepared to bust unions. The INS raids prove the government is willing to use a national police force against workers. We had better stick together today or tomorrow we may find that we are all “illegals.”

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes # 40. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.
Dan La Botz is editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis.