Saturday, February 11, 2006

NY Times Again Picks Up OSHA Impersonation Story

Well, there's one thing you can say about the New York Times: their journalists -- particularly labor reporter Steven Greenhouse -- read the right blogs.

The Times again picked up on Tuesday's Confined Space story (which was picked up from a story in Inside OSHA), about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau's insistence on continuing to impersonate OSHA officials in order to nab undocumented immigrant workers. ICE officials invited workers to a mandatory OSHA training last July at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, where they arrested 48 workers. ICE is a bureau within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The raid came under fierce criticism from labor unions and immigrant rights officials who argued that immigrant workers, who have a much higher injury and death rate than US-born workers, would be afraid to report dangerous safety conditions to OSHA, or even seek information, if they feared being deported. North Carolina and Federal OSHA officials also opposed the tactic
OSHA officials repeated yesterday the stance they took after the July raid, saying the agency worked to build trust with Hispanic workers. They also said they did not condone using the agency's name in this type of ruse.
But despite a statement last October by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff that impersonations using health and safety were not appropriate, ICE officials are defending use of the ruse.
[ICE spokesman Dean] Boyd said the employment of illegal immigrants at sensitive facilities like military bases posed a serious threat to domestic security. He said that, given their illegal status, they might be vulnerable to exploitation by criminals or terrorists.

"That's why we're aggressively targeting these types of workers at sensitive facilities," Mr. Boyd said. "We've got an obligation under the law to do what we need to do to remove those people immediately from a position where they could do potential harm."
He promised to "coordinate" with OSHA if they use the tactic again (whatever good that will do...)

AFL-CIO officials disagree with ICE's tactics:
Ana Avendano, a lawyer with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., also criticized immigration officials for not providing the assurances that safety advocates were seeking.

"We told them that the population of workers that we're dealing with is suffering the highest mortality rate and highest injury rate on the job," Ms. Avendano said. "If immigration officials are going to use OSHA as a ruse, all they will do is reduce the trust of workers to go to OSHA with concerns about safety problems."

On a personal note, I find it amazing how many hostile notes I've gotten from people asking me why I allegedly support illegal activity on the part of undocumented immigrants, but oppose illegal activity by employers who violate health and safety laws? And how can I criticize any tactic that nabs lawbreakers?

The simple answer is that illegal immigration may be, well, illegal, but the penalty is not death or serious injury. And, as one of my [more supportive] commenters points out, one crime is more akin to trespassing, while the other is more like negligent homicide.

The whole immigration issue isn't a simple one and I won't go through all of my arguments again here, but if you're interested in the debate, you can check out my discussion here. And feel free to join in.

Related Stories