by Iga Torres
On August 7th, 600 Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents raided seven Mississippi meat processing plants. Around 680 workers were taken into custody to be processed for immigration violations. As details emerged, we learned that many of the detainee’s children, who were at their first day of school, would return home to an empty house.
For me, the raids bring up a whole set of feelings and emotions, which are even more intense considering the raid came days after a mass shooting in El Paso, an event motivated by anti-immigrant and nationalist ideology. As someone with Latinx family and blood, I see my own family and myself in those detained and killed. I imagine myself as a child crying because my parents were taken while I was at school. It’s easy to put myself in those shoes, and most times I do it unconsciously.
These arrests – and the shooting, for that matter – targeted people who are doing exactly what our American culture has demanded of those seeking a life here. We’re talking about people who are integral members of their communities. And the idea that they are stealing jobs is old propaganda. These meat factories still had a “We’re Hiring” sign out front. Clearly, the management are desperate for workers, a need that is not being filled by current residents. The idea that people “here first” somehow have claim to exist over people who came later is childish logic and has no place in our society.
What many people forget are the circumstances that brought many of these workers to this country in the first place. The U.S. government spent decades in Latin American, purposefully destabilizing them. Only to have U.S. companies swoop in and take advantage of the ensuing desperation. Ordinary working class people were forced out of their homes as global economic elites pursued more profit. The same elites who are forcing our friends and neighbors here to work two or three jobs just to make rent – hell, they’re even kicking many of us out of our homes because rent is so high and wages are so low.
Profit-hungry employers are desperate to hire the cheapest labor they can find. In the case of meatpacking, the work is not only low wage, but also extremely dangerous. Yet without the workers to prepare, cut, and package the meats, we’d have to say goodbye to the frozen meals, prepared meal services, and even fresh meats in our deli aisle. Our way of life requires these workers. Exploitation is built into the system.
The meatpacking workers in Mississippi are not much different from the meatpacking workers here in Pennsylvania. These people are working hard jobs and spending the little money they make in our communities. They pay for housing, they pay for food, they pay for schools and water and sewer and roads and health care for the elderly. People without documentation even pay into social security and pay taxes, yet are ineligible to receive benefits from nearly all public programs.
And yet, people still continue to fixate on the fact that they came here “illegally”.
That fixation is ahistorical. And, frankly, foolish, when we consider that these claims are being made by people living on stolen land. When people say their ancestors “did it the right way,” they are forgetting that, prior to the 1920s, almost any boat from Europe that arrived on the coast was allowed entry, so long as no one was sick. The people coming in were considered Americans and contributed to the fabric of the country. They built houses and towns and helped bring about labor laws like the 40-hour work week and workplace safety. The immigrants of yesterday did what the immigrants of today do: they improve our communities and lives.
When we point fingers at and criminalize certain groups, we are playing into the hands of the economic elite. We need to remember that we are not in war with each other, and that working class people only have power when we unify. Today, Latinx folks are targeted, but tomorrow it might be someone else. One day, these uniforms might come knocking on your door or workplace and jail you, not for any crime you’ve committed, but because your subordination serves their interests.
Take a moment to think about the situation. You are at work, you are detained, your child gets sent home without an adult in the house, terrified about their future. Don’t think about status, don’t think about race. Just think about how you would feel in that situation.
We pretend to see lines that are artificially there. Race, citizenship, legalities, etc. But in the end, we are all workers being forced into all sorts of undesirable working conditions at the whims of the rich. We do it because we need money to live, and the rich know this. Instead of fighting with other low wage workers, thinking that somehow, our wages would increase if they were eliminated from the workforce, let’s work together to make wages and work conditions better for everyone.
When we come together, we all win.
Iga Torres is a Wilkes-Barre resident and member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
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