International Day of the Migrant Vigil in MS

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.

ICE Raid in Laurel, MS: employees clapped

USAToday (August 26 2008)  reported that when ICE and Homeland Security raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS taking away as many as 600 employees, (other reports stated ICE arrested 350);  the employees response was to clap.  

This is how deep xenophobia exists in Mississippi.  It is fear that the media and state government in Mississippi have propagated and nurtured.  This is the state that when a murder occurred in a trailer park outside of Jackson and the investigating police discovered the neighbors were undocumented the headlines conflated the two events, making it sound like the undocumented citizens were the alleged murderers.  The murder was committed by a white citizen. 

What is sad and what the clapping employees do not yet realize; is because  of this raid Howard Industries, if convicted of hiring undocumented workers, will not be allowed to do business in Mississippi for one year and no public contracts for three as the result of a new state law that went into effect on July 1.   

Further Howard Industries is obligated to create 2000 new jobs as per a contract awarded in 2002 of over 31 Million dollars.  If Howard Industries is unable to meet employment goals, it will be fined $3,000 for every job below quota.  

The clapping will undoubtedly turn to tears in the weeks and months ahead if Howard Industries is unable to continue contracted work.  This will mean lay offs in a region already reeling under the still yet to be declared recession.  And because the media has failed to write reports that truly inform the public and not just bias them against undocumented workers, there will probably be increased anger and prejudice aimed at the wrong people in this failed system of immigration. 

Right now, there are reports of as many of 175 parents under arrest, leaving their children’s fate in limbo.  Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church attempted to contact the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the congregation mentioned in USAToday,  to see what supports could be provided and was told that the families “are all gone” and there was nothing to be done.   Our Home UU Church will continue to seek avenues of support that could be provided to the families impacted by this event.  

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) based Jackson, MS is seeking to provide legal representation for the detained employees.  Jackson is about 100 miles to the northwest of Hattiesburg where the arraignments are taking place.  They are in need of financial support in order to attend to these families suffering from this indignity.  This includes donations for mileage and hotel costs.   Please consider supporting MIRA so these individuals get the due process under the law that they are entitled to.  What happened a few months ago in Postville, Iowa was that many of those arrested there were not informed sufficiently of their legal rights under the law. This resulted in many inadvertently waiving their rights and pleading guilty, not fully understanding what they were giving up.   This must not happen again here in Mississippi. 

And when employees clap at the enforcement of an unjust law, it is a sign that our sense of morality has deteriorated.  The injustice these immigrants face; the fearful interrogations they are confronted with, no one should be clapping… we should instead be horrified and outraged that our nation is using tactics that dictatorships use to maintain totalitarian order.  These tactics do not represent American values and ethics.  These tactics represent something far more evil. 

Stay tuned…

Blessings, Serenityhome

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