December 18 is International Day of the Migrant. First established in 1990 by the United Nations to call to awareness the human rights violations of migrant laborers who travel far from their native homes to find employment. Every year since, United States has been called to account of how it treats its immigrants working here legally and illegally. We are not the worstoffender in the world by far, but we have certainly lost any moral high-ground when it comes to immigration policy and immigrant workers here in our country.
Following the devestation by Hurricane Katrina legal migrants from India were brought to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi by Signal International to be welders. They were promised an hourly wage of $18.50, green cards, and permanent residency in exchange for a $20,000 fee. Instead they got a 10 month work visa which barely covers the fee. Signal tried to reduce their hourly wage to $9.50 an hour but were told by attorneys that $13.50 was the entry level wage for a welder. They were rented housing by Signal which deducted living expenses at $35 a day from their wages. Their housing is a small windowless bunker with two toilets and 5 showers for 24 men per bunker. The workers were denied the opportunity to find their own housing off site and were threatened with deportation if they tried.
This is how we have treated legal immigrants. Undocumented immigrants have been subjected to fear with ICE agents storming restaurants with guns brandishing. Following the ICE raid on Howard Industries where 600 workers were arrested on suspected illegal status, 491 workers were detained without charge for three weeks in Jena, LA, an unaccredited minimum/medium security prison. They were 250 people in a room. Meals consisted of boiled peas or corn and a bottle of water. They were forced to share a toothbrush with 60 other people. To date Howard Industries still has not surrendered 210 paychecks to workers nor have they returned personal effects of wallets, purses, cash, native countries passports and ID cards. There have been reports of Latino employees being harassed at Howard Industries and scrutinized for their legal status post employment and post E-verify, the faulty system required by employers to screen legal status.
On December 18, 2009, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance will recognize International Day of the Migrant with a candle light vigil to bring public awareneness to Howard Industries refusal to surrender paychecks and personal effects. I intend to be there to stand witness to this injustice, to offer a prayer for justice with other clergy of conscience, and to grieve with God over our corporate greed.