City Council can’t ignore ICE

A complaint during a recent City Council meeting brought renewed attention to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement armory in Altoona.

Although public comment was intense, council members generally did not respond.

The complaint follows ICE raids across four Mississippi poultry processing plants on Aug. 7. In the largest single-state operation in its history, ICE agents arrested 680 allegedly undocumented employees.

As of Aug. 17, 380 workers were still imprisoned at facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana. Forty workers were criminally charged. At one plant, a stunned employee guessed that half the workforce had been swept up. Yet no charges were filed against the company owners or plant managers that knowingly hired undocumented labor.

In August 2018, Koch Foods, owners of the Morton, Mississippi, plant, settled a lawsuit with workers for $3.75 million. The lawsuit alleged that Hispanic workers at the plant were sexually harassed, physically assaulted and blackmailed by supervisors.

ICE Director Matt Albence, noted that the August raid was the conclusion of “a yearlong investigation.”

Federal search warrants served at the Morton plant relied on confidential informants leading up to the raid. The evidence indicates that informants were plant managers and supervisors. The proximity of the Koch Foods settlement and their cooperation with an investigation suggests the ICE raids served to punish workers that organized against abuse.

Employers understand the chilling effect that immigration raids have on their workers. In one local example, when graduate students at Penn State moved toward unionizing in 2018, administrators threatened that a union could trigger ICE raids against international students legally working in the United States.

There’s plenty to fear in the threat of an ICE raid and detention.

The DHS Office of Inspector General documented 1,224 reports of sexual and physical abuse in ICE facilities between 2010 and 2017. ICE agents investigated only 43 of these reports.

No raid or abuse committed by ICE agents happens without the support of the Altoona armory. The facility “handles the acquisition, testing, issuance and maintenance of all ICE-owned firearms, law enforcement equipment and ammunition.”

In city council’s only comment on the issue, one council member brushed the topic away as “nonsense.” To deny a connection between ICE abuses and a facility that enables such abuses is either naivety or willful ignorance.

There are a range of options for using Altoona’s unique relationship with ICE to the benefit of the country and toward the preservation of basic civil liberties.

I urge area residents to press City Council for further action.

Matthew Adams