Pacific Steel workers speak out about ICE checks

July 20, 2011 5:54:29 PM PDT
An immigration crackdown at a steel plant in Berkeley has workers living in fear. Some of them spoke publicly for the first time on Wednesday, calling for an end to the so-called 'silent raids.'

The factory at Pacific Steel is busy, but as the work goes on, many workers feel like their lives are on hold. The workers are waiting to find out from ICE agents whether they have a job or a future in this country.

It has been five months since federal ICE agents ordered Berkeley's Pacific Steel to hand over the social security documents for all 600 workers as proof they are in the country legally. Since then, many of those workers who spend their days welding and molding parts for trucks have lived in fear.

Machine operator Annie Castano came out of the shadow and, through a translator, went public with her fear at an emergency meeting in Oakland where workers pleaded with local politicians for help.

"We aren't doing anything illegal," Castano said. "We arere just workers at this plant and we are working as hard as we can."

Union leaders admit there may be as many as 200 undocumented Pacific Steel workers, which the company says is news to them. When asked if Pacific Steel does hire, or has ever hired, undocumented workers, a company spokeswoman said, "not knowingly."

"They wouldn't do that," said Pacific Steel's Elisabeth Jewel. "We're in the same position as hundreds of employers all over the country."

ICE would not comment on the Pacific Steel case directly, but did say that there "has been a crackdown on illegal workers under the Obama administration, with more employer audits in the last 9 months than during the entire previous year, and more recently, than in the final years of the Bush administration."

Oakland city councilman Ignacio de la Fuente also represents Pacific Steel union workers. Those workers may be fired or possibly deported.

"The fact of the matter is, these people are employed," de la Fuente said. "They work. They pay taxes. They support their families."

The Berkeley city council recently passed a resolution denouncing the ICE audits and many local politicians agreed to send letters of opposition to the Obama administration after Wednesday's meeting. Those leaders say the ramification of firing hundreds of workers would impact the entire city economy.


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