April 30, 2008


DES MOINES – A recently formed national commission examining raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents held its third regional hearing today at Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Iowa.

“The goal of today’s hearing is to shine a spotlight on the government’s activities,” said commission member and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. “Our Constitution is at stake, and if our government can’t following the Constitution, that is a serious problem that must be addressed.”

The hearing focused on the impact of workplace immigration raids in Marshalltown, Iowa, Grand Island, Neb., and Greeley, Colo., and examined how the execution of these raids is part of a wider pattern of ICE misconduct occurring across the country.

“”This is our third regional hearing and the fact that at each one we are hearing similar testimony of heavy handed tactics by immigration agents, as well as examples of clear violations of workers’ constitutional rights, is deeply troubling and points to the systemic and recurring nature of these injustices,” said Joseph T. Hansen, founding chairman of the National Commission and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union president.

The hearing in Des Moines was part of a series of regional public meetings that the commission is holding to explore the execution, implications and ramifications of workplace immigration enforcement. The commission will also look into claims that ICE has engaged in violations of the 4th amendment.  After a thorough investigation, the commission will produce a public report that highlights its findings and makes recommendations about how the system should be reformed.

“Many of the misdeeds that we have heard from occurred to workers who are in this country legally; U.S. citizens who have lived in the United States their whole lives, people who were born here or who immigrated properly to this country,” added Vilsack. “That is what concerns me, and why it is critical that these activities are exposed and adequately addressed.”

To date, ICE has refused to address the concerns raised by the witnesses who have testified.

“This commission has heard from workers, from religious leaders, from elected officials at every level of government and from psychological and legal experts,” added Hansen. “For ICE to try to ignore the pain these workers have gone through, as well as the testimony of respected leaders and elected officials about the devastation and destruction these raids cause families and communities, is simply unacceptable. We will continue to draw public attention to their actions until the system is appropriately reformed.”

The national commission was created in response to a series of raids that took place at meatpacking plants in America’s heartland.  On December 12, 2006, thousands of innocent workers were detained at meatpacking plants in six states during workplace raids carried out by federal ICE agents. The UFCW represents workers at five of the plants, including Worthington, Minn.; Greeley, Colo.; Cactus, Tex.; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Grand Island, Neb.

On September 12, 2007, the UFCW filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to protect the 4th amendment rights of all Americans and enjoin the government from illegally arresting and detaining workers, including U.S. citizens and legal residents, while at their workplace.

In addition to Vilsack and Hansen, a broad group of leading policy experts serves on the commission. The commission held its first hearing in Washington, D.C., on February 25, 2008, and the second hearing in Boston on April 7, 2008. Future hearings are scheduled in Atlanta, Ga., for May 29, 2008.

Civilian-driven commissions have played an important role in U.S. history. When African-Americans were arrested, beaten and killed during the civil rights movement, the tragedies fueled the McCone Commission in 1965 and the National Advisory Commission in 1968.

When Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established to investigate these unacceptable civil rights violations.

Citizen review panels are often created to help renew a commitment to rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, especially when those rights are violated by local police brutality.