The 48 immigrants thought they were attending mandatory safety training by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But it was not until they showed up to the meeting in Goldsboro, N.C., last week that they discovered they had been summoned for an altogether different reason.The federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is defending the "ruse" tactic in general, seems to finally have gotten the message, although it's unclear whether they will cease and desist impersonating OSHA officials.
Federal immigration officials had posted fliers telling immigrant workers for several subcontractors at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro that they had to attend a safety meeting. There was no meeting, however; instead there was a sting operation in which immigration officials arrested 48 people on charges that they were illegal immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine.
The action had one branch of the federal government speaking out against another. The United States Labor Department as well as North Carolina's Labor Department on Friday criticized the sting, suggesting that it would make immigrant workers distrust safety officials just when safety agencies across the nation are stepping up efforts to reduce the disproportionately high injury rate among Hispanic workers.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which carried out the sting, said it was part of a stepped-up effort to crack down on illegal immigrants working at chemical plants, nuclear plants and other sensitive facilities.I'm not exactly sure what "appropriate coordination" means, but I'm hoping it's bureaucrat-speak for "We screwed up, and we're trying to save face.
"We certainly understand OSHA's concerns about the use of their name," Mr. Boyd said. "We're putting in place procedures to ensure appropriate coordination."
The ruse used by ICE has been roundly condemned by the AFL-CIO, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and the National Council of La Raza:
"We think it's an absolute outrage and danger for the immigration authorities to use this type of tactic," said Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group for Hispanics. "Our labor law system is completely complaint-driven, and our ability to keep the work force safe depends on workers being able to complain, and by masquerading as OSHA officials, immigration authorities will clearly discourage immigrant workers from coming forward. This won't affect just immigrant workers, it will affect the safety of all workers."North Carolina and federal OSHA were not pleased either:
Pam Groover, a spokeswoman for the federal labor department, said, "This is not something we were involved in, and we do not condone the use of OSHA's name in this type of activity."Finally, this is odd:
Felipe Bravo, a 47-year-old immigrant from Mexico City, was arrested at the meeting at the Air Force base, but was released when he proved that he was an American citizen. But he said his brother, Domingo, was arrested and faces deportation. They installed air conditioners and heating equipment, while many of the others worked in construction, lawn mowing or cleaning.The good news is we're not from OSHA? How is that good news for workers? Sounds like all bad news to me.
Mr. Bravo said that the government officials first served coffee and doughnuts and that one official stood up and said, "I got good news and bad news. The good news is we are not from OSHA, and the bad news is we're from the immigration office."
He said a swarm of immigration agents then entered the theater.
- Copy of Flyer Used To Impersonate OSHA, July 15, 2005
- Betrayal in North Carolina: Unions Condemn OSHA Impersonators, July 14, 2005
- Stupid and Deadly: Undocumented Workers Lured into Arrest With Promise of Safety Training, July 11, 2005