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Guantanamo and anti-immigrant worker raids in Mississippi
Source Joe Atkins
Date 08/10/29/12:15
Guantanamo and anti-immigrant worker raids in Mississippi

OXFORD, Miss. - My mother, bless her 87-year-old heart, finally let me in her room and quickly locked the door behind me. "They're out there," she whispered with the German accent she has never lost. "They want to question me again."
Her mind had wandered back to the 1940s when the Gestapo arrested her for a simple act of kindness to French prisoners at the plant where she worked. Her punishment? Eight months in a Polish prison. No trial, no appeal, likely no formal charge either. Such matters aren't necessary in a police state.
Six decades later, and the old ghosts came back to haunt her. As I calmed her down, I silently cursed long-dead, jackbooted Nazis who could reach out from the grave and still cause pain in their victims.
I thought about the democracy that was a beacon of hope to those under the heel of Nazi Germany, and how its leaders today sanction torture and imprisonment without formal charges, trials or appeals. How much difference can there be between my mother's Polish prison and Guantanamo?
A recent eight-month investigation by McClatchy Newspapers showed that the United States is holding dozens and possibly hundreds of innocent men in Guantanamo and other prison camps around the world, some of them for years, subjecting them to beatings and other abuses, while taking advantage of Bush administration "special rules" that suspend requirements for formal charges or right of appeal.
In Iraq, the U.S. military is holding thousands of detainees in Camp Bucca, close to the border with Kuwait, most of them without charges. Some have languished in the camp since 2005. Nation magazine reported that 80 percent or more are believed to be innocent of any crime.
You don't have to go as far as Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq to witness the dimming of the beacon of hope that this nation once was.
Go to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, La., where federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent hundreds of immigrant workers after they were arrested at Howard Industries in Laurel, Miss., on August 25, the largest raid at a workplace in the history of the nation.
Detainees were held for three weeks without formal charges or ability to see an attorney, forced to share one toothbrush with as many as 60 other workers, and dumped into single rooms holding as many as 250 inmates, according to testimony gathered by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA). Female immigrant workers arrested at Howard-many of them mothers with young children-were forced to wear monitoring devices on their ankles and forbidden to leave Mississippi.
Their crime? Working without proper documentation at a company fined in June by the federal government for 54 safety violations. They helped make power transformers and voltage regulators, reportedly at wages much less than other workers. Most of them traveled hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles across rugged deserts and mountains to escape the poverty of their homeland for the opportunity to do that work.
They had the bad luck to come to Mississippi, where the governor this year signed what labor writer David Bacon has called "the farthest-reaching employer sanctions law" in the nation, a law that could put an undocumented immigrant worker in prison for as long as five years plus a fine of up to $10,000.
The law also targets employers who hire such workers, but don't expect any high-level officials with Howard Industries to be sitting in a jail any time soon. This is a company known for its owners' gifts to politicians and so beloved by the state's lawmakers that they awarded it $31 million in taxpayer money in 2002.
Times are getting hard, and people struggling to make ends meet will be looking for scapegoats. That's what happened in the Germany my mother knew as a young girl. Immigrant workers aren't the cause of the hard times, but they make an easy target. They should have brought their documents, but they followed a beacon of hope and never noticed that the closer they came, the dimmer it got.

Joe Atkins is a veteran journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, and author of the recently published book "Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press," which assesses the labor movement in the South--past and present--and its coverage in the Southern press. Contact tel. 662-915-5510 / home: 662-236-7881

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