FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Go to Work, Go to Jail

Recently, more than 100 workers in Pascagoula, Mississippi walked off the job at a Mississippi shipyard last week to protest conditions similar to slavery.  The workers were protesting the conditions they have been living and working in since being hired from India after Hurricane Katrina.

According to the lawsuit filed in the workers’ behalf, the workers were offered jobs, green cards and permanent residency in exchange for as much as $20,000 each that they paid to recruiters working for a Northrop Grumman subsidiary in Bombay.  One of the organizers of the march was quoted in a press release put out by the New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition, saying “They promised us green cards and permanent residency,  and instead gave us 10-month visas and made us live like animals in company trailers, 24 to a room.  We were trapped between an ocean of debtat home and constant threats of deportation from our bosses in Mississippi.”

When workers attempted to organize against these conditions the organizers were fired.

This is but the tip of the iceberg.

In what can only be termed circumstances similar to those of foreign workers hired by US and British companies to work on the ill-fated reconstruction of Iraq, the litany of abuses against those—both US-born and foreign—hired by various corporations to work in the reconstruction of New Orleans and the rest of the US southern coast hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  A recently released report by the  New Orleans Worker Justice Coalition is an ongoing litany of corporate corruption, worker abuse and outright illegal and immoral violation of human rights.

Also in Mississippi, beginning July 1st, 2008 it will become a felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job.  Anyone caught working without papers “shall be subject to imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than one (1) year nor more than five (5) years, a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or both.” Furthermore, anyone charged with the crime of working without papers will not be eligible for bail.

In Iowa, federal ICE agents arrested hundreds of workers at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meat packing plant.  The reason given by law enforcement was that the workers were using false social security numbers.  Of course, the facts are that people can’t work without a social security number and cannot get one unless they have been given some kind of legal status by the government—a status becoming more difficult to acquire by the day.  This is but one more Catch-22 in the life of an immigrant in the US.

Meanwhile, in Danbury, CT. a court upheld the use of undercover police acting as day-labor employers to arrest men and women looking for work in that city.  The workers were then deported.  In San Diego County, plans are underway to build two large detention centers that will hold immigrants without papers for indeterminate amounts of time.   Haliburton hopes to get the contract.  In South Carolina, Georgia and some other states, legislators have introduced laws forbidding the use of any language but English in the workplace.

Now, imagine a country where some residents have more rights than others.  These residents can hold almost any job they desire.  They live in neighborhoods away from those of darker skin and lesser means.  The latter cannot hold any job they desire.  Part of the reason for this is because of the law and part of the reason is because of the nature of their education and social status.  Everyone must have identification that also signifies their social status, even though that status is primarily determined by the color of one’s skin.  If one does not have such identification (especially if they are not white), they are arrested.

If they or their relatives can not produce identification, the arrestees once released are doomed to a life living in the shadows, always wondering if they will be turned in by their employer or enemies.
The country I am talking about was apartheid South Africa.  Now, since the advent of NAFTA and other so-called free trade agreements, the national boundaries between North and South America have been economically erased.  If one stretches their imagination just a bit, it is possible to perceive the southern lands of Mexico and Central America as the equivalent of bantustans with the United States as their Capetown.

Furthermore, the identification legal immigrants to the United States are required to carry can be compared to the passes blacks in South Africa needed to get into different parts of the white-ruled South Africa.  If those passes were not in order or nonexistent, blacks were subject to arrest.  Likewise, if the various documents that the US government requires immigrants to carry and produce at will are not in order or nonexistent, those immigrants will be arrested.  Those immigrants without papers must live their lives in the shadows, always wondering if they will be turned in by their employer or enemies.  If they live in some parts of the United States, the discovery of their lack of documents might occur as the result of a roadblock set up by police to check people’s identification.

Of course, there are a multitude of ways that these historical instances are not similar, but it is the underlying consciousness of fear is distressingly similar. It is questionable whether or not most US citizens agree with the efforts listed above that target immigrants.

However, the lack of outcry by those who disagree with these attempts to dehumanize undocumented immigrants provides those invested in destroying immigrants’ lives with a voice hopefully well beyond their numbers.  So does the willingness of the US public to ignore the family-shattering raids and imprisonment of thousands of immigrants for no other reason than not having the approved documents.

Implicit in this willingness is a sense that those being picked up and thrown in detention centers are not as human as “real Americans.”  If the lessons of authoritarian states have taught us anything, they should have taught us that we should be wary of those who would define a human being in ever-narrowing terms.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
Wade Sikorski
Oil or Food? Notes From a Farmer Who Doesn’t Think Pipelines are Worth It
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of Vengeance
Hilary Moore – James Tracy
No Fascist USA! Lessons From a History of Anti-Klan Organizing
Linn Washington Jr.
Ridiculing MLK’s Historic Garden State ‘Firsts’
L. Michael Hager
Evaluating the Democratic Candidates: the Importance of Integrity
Jim Goodman
Bloomberg Won’t, as They Say, Play Well in Peoria, But Then Neither Should Trump
Olivia Alperstein
We Need to Treat Nuclear War Like the Emergency It Is
Jesse Jackson
Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin
Wendell Griffen
Grace and Gullibility
Nicky Reid
Hillary, Donald & Bernie: Three Who Would Make a Catastrophe
David Yearsley
Dresden 75
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail