Anti-ICE protest at Georgia prison; nationwide raids continue

On Sept. 15, some 100 people rallied outside the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a privately-run immigration prison, to protest the treatment of immigration detainees. The rally culminated a week-long 105-mile march through six counties, organized by the Prison & Jail Project, a 15-year-old civil rights and prisoner rights advocacy group based in Americus, Georgia. The group’s annual “Freedom Walk”—now in its 12th year—highlights racial and social inequities in the criminal justice system in rural southwest Georgia.

About eight people from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Atlanta Minuteman Project held a counter-demonstration with banners reading: “Enforce our existing laws” and “Secure our borders.”

The Stewart Detention Center is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison company, under contract for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It opened in October 2006 and with about 500 employees it has become the largest employer in Stewart County, one of the poorest counties in Georgia.

“This is a for-profit prison. Is America about turning prisoners into commodities?” asked Anton Flores, a leader of the faith-based Alterna community, which co-sponsored the Lumpkin protest. The groups also pointed out that the prison’s remote location makes it difficult for attorneys or family members to visit detainees. Flores said he planned to visit detainees from El Salvador and Colombia later in the day. “I will let them know that there are people who see them as people,” he said. (Associated Press, Sept. 15;, Albany, GA, Sept. 13; e-mail Message from Anton Flores, Sept. 18)

Arrests at Texas military base

On Sept. 14, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 12 construction workers at the Fort Bliss US Army post in El Paso County, Texas, for lacking proper work permits. The 12 were detained after Military Police and ICE agents interviewed 335 workers at a housing construction site at Fort Bliss and one at Biggs Army Airfield on the base.

Most of the workers were employed by four subcontractors for Balfour Beatty Construction, said Winn Maddrey, a Balfour Beatty spokesperson. The four companies were doing framing, drywall, rock-wall building and flooring at the sites. Maddrey said the subcontractors are required to provide documentation of workers’ immigration status to Balfour Beatty, and it is the subcontractor’s responsibility to verify the information. The prospective employee must present a copy of the form certifying his documentation and personal identification before he is issued a work badge, Maddrey said.

ICE agents will continue an investigation into the source of the false documentation, post officials said. Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said it will be up to the prime contractor for Fort Bliss housing to determine whether any action will be taken against the subcontractors. (El Paso Times, Sept. 15)

Illinois workers fired over “no-match”

On Sept. 19, eight Latino workers were fired from the Ballco Manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois, apparently over allegedly mismatched Social Security numbers. The next day, Sept. 20, a number of other workers walked off the job at Ballco and joined their fired co-workers on a picket line outside the plant. Early on Sept. 21, 15 of the workers who protested the firings were also fired.

On Sept. 21, more than 20 workers formed two picket lines outside Ballco, carrying signs that read “Unfair Labor Practice Strike” and “Honk for Justice.” The protesters said they had been called individually into a supervisor’s office and told that the Social Security numbers they had provided did not match government records. “They just told me, ‘There’s a problem with your Social Security number, so we’re going to have to fire you,'” said Arturo Lopez, a machine operator at the plant, which manufactures steel balls, valves and pipe fittings. Another machine operator, Gonzalo Bello, said: “They said if I ever fix the problem with my Social Security number that I can try to come back.”

Marcos Samano, a supervisor at the plant, said he was initially told to stay at Ballco through the end of the year to train new employees, but he was fired after walking out to join other workers in the protest. Samano said he was confused about apparently being fired for not documenting his employment eligibility, although he had been working at the plant for eight years. Ballco declined to comment on the firings. (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 22) (See INB, Sept. 2)

Border agency arrests 202 in Alabama

Between Sept. 2 and 14, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents arrested 202 out-of-status immigrants in Mobile County, Alabama, according to Ken Fuller, the agent in charge of the CBP station in Mobile. The two-week crackdown, dubbed “Operation Uniforce III,” targeted migrants who were traveling through Alabama by vehicle after crossing into the US from Mexico. In announcing the arrests on Sept. 17, Fuller said that more important than the number of people arrested is the information gathered from those arrested, including when, how and where they crossed from Mexico into Texas. The Border Patrol, in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, plans to continue these operations in the future. (Press-Register, Mobile, AL, Sept. 7, 17)

From Immigration News Briefs, Sept. 23

See our last post on the immigration crackdown.