Business and ICE collaborate to keep workers down

An unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer reviews forms at the the Pacific Enforcement Response Center in Laguna Niguel in April.
An unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer reviews forms at the the Pacific Enforcement Response Center in Laguna Niguel in April. Los Angeles Times/TNS

California’s labor agency has become the latest site for the rapid expansion of immigration enforcement, detention and deportation under the Trump administration.

Already, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is going to police stations, courthouses, schools, shelters and houses of worship that had been considered “sensitive locations” where immigration enforcement should not take place.

ICE has been made aware of grievances filed by undocumented workers against their employers, and the worst part is, the state labor commissioner believes the employers may have called ICE in retaliation for the complaints.

The collaboration between business owners, local governments, law enforcement agencies and immigration authorities to control labor is nothing new in our nation’s history. Immigrant workers have traditionally been viewed both as a threat to white labor and as expendable and undeserving of rights.

During 1930s strikes in California, agricultural growers and other big business owners used every means, legal or not, to break the power of striking workers demanding better wages and living conditions. Immigrant workers were routinely intimidated by threats of being arrested for picketing or vagrancy, or by harassment and arrest by federal immigration authorities.

Businesses across California and the nation have been given a message by the Trump administration that undocumented workers do not have the right to contest unfair labor practices. However, this message is contrary to state law, which allows workers to report labor violations regardless of their immigration status.

It is also illegal to retaliate against employees by calling ICE to alert them of a person’s immigration status. California Labor Commissioner Julie Su has directed her staff to turn away ICE agents unless they have a warrant at all offices statewide.

Immigration enforcement is, at its heart, an attempt to control the distribution of labor and wealth. But the exploitation does not end there. Immigration detention is a multibillion-dollar industry, funded by taxpayers and driven by profit. In 2016, private prisons held almost three-quarters of people in federal immigration detention. The day after Trump was elected, the stock price of Correction Corporation of America/CoreCIVIC, which operates many immigration detention facilities, soared by 43 percent. In 2016, the company reported $1.79 billion in total revenues.

After ICE apprehends someone, they are detained indefinitely. This system is broken beyond repair, rife with human rights abuses, and shielded from transparency and accountability.

Immigration detention sites, themselves, are accused of unfair labor practices. Sylvester Owino and Jonathan Gomez have sued CCA/CoreCIVIC, which runs the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego, claiming that it forces detainees to work for $1 a day or less. The plaintiffs allege that if people in detention refuse to work, they face retaliation and punishment by the private prison guards.

Immigration enforcement and detention are simply another means of exploiting the value and labor of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Christina Mansfield is the co-founder and co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, a San Francisco nonprofit advocacy group. She can be contacted at