An American Tale: the Perfect Cultural Storm

This particular story has all the elements of what’s bothering Americans on both sides of the political fence when it comes to mass immigration. Listed below are the main players in the performance that unfolded last week in Laurel, Mississippi.

The facts growing up around this tale can be cherry-picked, and then preserved in your own fable for the times (not forgetting that moral warnings are threaded through fables). Here are the dramatis personae:

  • Big business
  • Greedy local politicians
  • Illegal (and legal) immigrants
  • Labor Unions
  • The ACLU
  • Big bureaucrats in the form of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
  • Local communities and local organizations caught in the cracks of these various conflicts

There are a number of news articles out there and they highlight different aspects of the situation. In some ways, the storyline depends on how close you live to the situation.

Here is the AP version, via Yahoo:

Factory had tension between union, immigrants

[HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press]

LAUREL, Miss. — Union bosses in this region of rural Mississippi have long grumbled that the largest factories here hire illegal immigrants, and that the immigrants were starting to get more overtime and supervisory positions.

Friction between the union and immigrant workers, along with a tipoff at an electrical manufacturing plant, boiled over this week into the biggest workplace immigration raid in the nation’s history.

When the first of the 595 suspected illegal immigrants was taken into custody Monday [August 25th] some fellow workers broke into applause. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the investigation started three years ago after agents received a tip from a union member.

The applause has to do with two issues: Laurel’s black population, some of whom feel that immigrants are taking jobs they would otherwise have, are resentful of the rise of “Little Mexico” in parts of rural Mississippi. The second concern emanates from union members who see the immigrants as scab workers, undermining the union’s attempt to better the working conditions at this company.
– – – – – – – –
In Mississippi, unlike many states, union membership is voluntary. Union members and immigrants in the same shop is a volatile mixture at best. In fact, Mississippi was the last state to create its own board and bureaucracy to deal with labor issues.

This version says the tip-off came three years ago; other stories report that it was two years. Many people wonder what took ICE so long to act and this leads to suspicions that the timing is strictly political and done to enhance George Bush’s image as being tough on immigration — thus helping the Republican ticket in November.

This is not the only ICE incursion into businesses in small towns. When it happens, opinions fall into several categories:

  • the sorting out of illegals is long overdue and not enough, thus ICE is incompetent and Bush is much too sympathetic to the “brown” people — especially Mexicans since there are some in his family;
  • the “invasions” by ICE are wrong because they hurt the towns in which the offending businesses operate;
  • breaking up illegals’ families is harmful and immoral and ICE is fascistic
  • the illegals are taking jobs from locals by working for third world wages.

Locals cannot do this because they cannot survive on the pittance offered due to the fact they live within the law — e.g., paying taxes, living in homes that meet the housing code, etc.

Some of the more perfervid versions of the harmful/immoral type see this as the hand of the heartless Bush, striking again. The only solution they can see to this problem is to elect Obama because he has promised to work with La Raza.

Here’s The New York Daily News in full cry against injustice [my emphasis added]:

You would’ve thought the dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in full battle gear that descended on Laurel, Miss., Monday had found Osama Bin Laden.

That, though, was not the case. It turns out that their mission was much easier and far less risky. What took place in the small town of Laurel had little to do with national security.

The ICE agents did not go to Laurel to battle dangerous terrorists or capture murderous criminals. They were there to raid yet another factory and round up hundreds of poor, powerless workers in another episode of the merciless war the Bush administration has declared on immigrants. [my emphasis -D]

Reports of repeated violations of the detainees’ constitutional rights by immigration authorities has already prompted an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that workers at the factory where the raid occurred were segregated by race or ethnicity and interrogated, the factory was locked down for several hours, workers were denied access to counsel, and ICE failed to inform family members and lawyers following the raid where the workers were being jailed,” said Mónica Ramírez, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who traveled to Mississippi.

As the Democratic convention was getting off the ground in Denver, it was business as usual for ICE, which proudly declared the Mississippi raid — in which nearly 600 alleged undocumented immigrants were arrested — the largest in the country’s history.

Ironically, the company raided by ICE in Mississippi had joined last year the E-verify work eligibility system that has been widely criticized for its inaccuracy. This, together with ICE’s inability to shield participating businesses from devastating raids, is a surefire way of increasing discrimination against foreign-born workers even if they are legal residents or naturalized citizens.

The Laurel immigrants, arrested while working at the Howard Industries electric transformer plant, were transported to a federal immigration prison in Jena, La., some 200 miles from their homes and families.

“Churches, legal services groups and humanitarian organizations have already sprung into action to address the human costs in terms of children left without a parent, breadwinners plucked from their jobs, limited access to lawyers and truncated due process for detainees,” said Douglas Rivlin, the communications director of the National Immigration Forum.


One has to wonder — especially in the current depressed economy — how many more towns will be blown away by ICE raids and how much longer Washington will keep up its practice of going after workers but not employers.

Notice the little insertion there about “the current depressed economy”. Mississippi’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, but Jones County’s unemployment rate is lower than the state’s, because of the large numbers of people employed by Howard Industries. The economy is not depressed. It is facing the same uncertainty it endured during the 1990’s bursting of the bubble. A lot of suddenly rich people were suddenly back in reality. No, they weren’t impoverished, at least if they hadn’t used their new wealth to accumulate disproportionate debt.

This time around you can substitute the real estate bubble brought on by those who accepted a level of mortgage debt they couldn’t maintain. And then add some petroleum gravy. However, please notice that the oil prices were beginning to edge down again, as more knowledgeable economists predicted they would do [come Autumn] months ago. Now that Hurricane Gustav is wreaking damage on the offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, oil prices will start up again, but the rise will be temporary until fear dies down.

And “Washington” does indeed go after employers. Here’s just one example. However, such stories are ignored because they don’t fit the Big, Bad Business gets away while the little guy has to pay.

The writer for The Daily News has Hope, though. Hope is now the primary theological virtue for the MSM, with faith and charity totally occluded by this bright shining Lie:

Hope, though, could be on the horizon. Barack Obama included immigrants in his promise of change during a July 13 speech to the National Council of La Raza.

“When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it,” Obama said with customary eloquence.

Here is a wider perspective from the AP story:

In interviews with The Associated Press, both union members and immigrants spoke of a simmering tension. At least one immigrant said scare tactics were used to pressure people to join the union.

Union members said they resented immigrants, who were often allowed to work as much as 40 hours of overtime a week when other workers were discouraged from doing so. All declined to give their names, saying they feared for their jobs.


Robert Shaffer, head of the Mississippi AFL-CIO, said Wednesday that members have long complained that companies in southern Mississippi hire illegal immigrants.

“Jackson, Hattiesburg, Laurel and all areas along the coast, it’s a little Mexico,” Shaffer said. “I’m not against people trying to make living. I have a compassion for those folks. But at the same time, the taxpayers of Mississippi shouldn’t be subsidizing a plant that won’t even hire their own workers.”

In 2002, Mississippi lawmakers approved a $31.5 million, taxpayer-backed incentive plan for Howard Industries to expand. The company, with 4,000 workers, is the largest employer in Jones County, which includes Laurel.

Historically, the first “outsourcing” the US experienced was the flight of companies from highly-taxed, union-controlled northern cities. In the south, especially rural and poor places like Mississippi, companies could hire workers more cheaply and were at liberty to fire them, too, since unionization didn’t really exist among poor black workers who were glad to have the jobs.

The taxes in such places were much lower; in fact there were tax incentives put in place by state legislators in order to attract business from the north. The friendly relations between state legislators and Howard Industries is a good example of what happens throughout the south.

You could certainly pass out a number of black hats to both to Big Bad Business and to the Labor Union at Howard Industries:

About 2,600 of Howard Industries’ workers are in the union. Shaffer said he did not know whether any of those picked up in the raid were union members, or if nonunion workers were offered overtime while union workers were not.

Shaffer said offering immigrant workers union membership would depend on the situation, but he doubted it could be done if immigrants were in the country illegally.

Those detained in the raid came from Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Contacted Wednesday, Howard Industries referred reporters to the statement it issued Monday, which said the company “runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for its jobs. It is company policy that it hires only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.”

No executives were detained in Monday’s raid, but a spokeswoman said the raid was just the first part of an ongoing investigation.

In other words, there will be an investigation of the company. Management and owners both will be fined if found guilty of knowingly hiring illegal aliens. See the story about McDonald’s in the link above.

Meanwhile, there are union shenanigans to report:

A 30-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has worked at the transformer plant for three years said union representatives pressured immigrants to join the union, sometimes visiting their homes, offering gifts such as shirts and indicating that if they joined the union they would make more money.

The immigrant, who was not caught in the raid because he works the night shift, spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his first name, Jose, because he was concerned about being detained.

“The union uses the tactic of saying immigration was coming and the members of the union would not be taken,” he said through a translator.

Jose said he did not join the union because he wasn’t convinced it would come to his side if he were detained, and he felt his dues would not be returned.

At least eight of the workers caught in the raid face criminal charges for allegedly using false Social Security and residency identification.

Despite the outpouring of help from “churches and humanitarian organizations”, some local residents are happy about the crackdown:

On Wednesday, hundreds of people lined up outside the plant to apply for jobs as news of the raid spread. A billboard had gone up last week, before the raid, saying the company was hiring.

“I need a job and got kids. I heard that they need some help now,” said Willie Keys, 20, who applied Wednesday. “All them Mexicans got fired because they didn’t have a pass … All these businesses have been taking Americans’ jobs.”

The unemployment rate in Jones County was 6.5 percent in July, slightly higher than the national rate of 6 percent but below the state’s 8.5 percent rate.

Finally there is the local view. This is from The Clarion Ledger in Jackson. You will note that their approach takes into account more of the community concerns than does the national coverage. It would behoove the MSM to go more often to the local papers for background:

Tensions had been building in this small southeast Mississippi town even before the immigration raid at the city’s largest employer.

Feelings in the wake of Monday’s raid now range from fear to anger to sympathy. And some residents are simply trying to move on.


Lashonda Dase, the store manager of a local pawnshop, questions whether the company knowingly hired illegal workers over those who are here legally.

“You’re basically keeping 600 people who are legal to work here from working,” she said. “That could be 600 households, 600 children who’ve been suffering.

“It was wrong if they knew.”

No one at Howard Industries has been charged, but the investigation is ongoing. Arrests at companies often can come weeks, months or even years after raids.

The company has denied any wrongdoing.

Wanda Benson, the city’s public relations director, would not discuss anything for this story, including questions about Laurel’s Hispanic community, Howard Industries’ role in Laurel or how the raid stands to impact the city’s future.

“Maybe at a later date the city will make a formal statement, but we have nothing to say at this time,” she said.

Nearly all of the city’s Mexican restaurants closed following the raid and have not reopened.


Many in Laurel have been hesitant to openly discuss the situation because of ties with the plant or fears of reprisal in the community. Howard Industries is not only the largest employer in the city, but it’s also the largest employer in Jones County.

The Clarion-Ledger spoke to illegal immigrants last week who said they were fearful of going out in public after the raid and may return to their native countries. None would go on record.

At La Michoacana Supermarket, a Hispanic grocery store near the Howard Industries plant, manager Carlos Mauricio Lira said the raid has led to a dramatic drop-off in business.

“Right now we barely see customers. The majority of them are in their homes scared to come out,” Lira said through a translator as he unpacked a shipment of spicy, dried peppers last week. “Today (Thursday), I saw like five people when we normally see dozens of customers.”

Some residents said some have been mistreated.

The Rev. Roberto Velez, pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Peniel (Peniel Christian Church), recalled a man who attempted to buy a prepaid credit card from a local store earlier in the day and was told he needed to provide a Social Security number.

“Why would you need to give a Social Security number?” Velez asked. “You put money on the card, and you spend it.”

But Velez said he also has seen an outpouring of sympathy.

Members from all ethnicities in the community have reached out with donations, canned goods and other necessities for the families of those who are being detained. “It really is a great community,” he said.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 700 of Laurel’s 18,000 residents were Hispanic. But Mayor Melvin Mack has said he has heard as many as 5,000 Hispanics may live here.

Less than two years ago, the city reported a spike in crimes against Hispanic residents. Mack spoke out, saying he was “very disturbed” by the trend and vowed to stop it.

The city increased officers’ pay and beefed up patrols, especially in the city’s Avenues neighborhood, where many Hispanic residents live.

But many in the Hispanic community, including Lira, have fallen into a sort of ethnic isolation, created mostly by the language barrier. He doesn’t speak English, and though he understands it a little, he often doesn’t know how to respond.

Lira’s store customers hail from countries across Latin America and South America — Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Brazil.

There are several similar stores in Laurel.


Other businesses in town have tried to attract the growing base.

A sign in front of Pawn & Trade on Mississippi 15 says “Se habla espanol” — Spanish is spoken here, but Dase said they get few Spanish-speaking customers.

“We get a lot more in Hattiesburg,” she said.


Though she has seen some resentment toward the Hispanic community, Dase, who is black, said she “kind of straddle(s) the fence on the issue.”

She has not noticed an increase in tension among the Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking communities in Laurel since the raid, though. “It’s just the same old thing. Same as before,” she said.

She understands the immigrants’ side: “They’re just looking for work,” she said.


Just days following the raid, Howard was making new hires and holding orientation sessions.

Velisa Hickman of Laurel applied at Howard earlier this summer but had not heard back from the company until Wednesday — two days after the raid.

She has worked for Howard before and said she was happy to be back.

Nearly everyone who lives in Laurel knows someone who works at Howard Industries, and the company often is seen as a pillar of the community.

Howard makes products such as power transformers, voltage regulators and transformer components.

“It’s a good place to work,” Hickman said after orientation Thursday.

For Hickman, who will be working in assembly, the raid was a godsend because she has been unemployed since September. “It’s good to have a job again,” she said.

A brief statement Monday has been the only public comment the company has made since the raid. In a letter sent to customers Wednesday, the company said it had used various means, including E-Verify and fingerprinting, to confirm the legal status of employees.

“Howard Industries has done nothing wrong and has not been charged”, an underlined sentence in the document reads. [my emphasis — D]

ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said Friday that each of the people being detained are being processed for removal. Many were transported to a facility in Jena, La.

Velez said he has heard of many who are signing forms for voluntary deportation, rather than prolonging deportation in court.

Now Velez is planning a trip to Mexico. He will take as many of the illegal immigrants as he can who were not caught and want to go back.

But Velez said he has evidence that some of the people being detained were here legally and are unlawfully being held.

Velez, a U.S. citizen who previously served in the military, has become a point person for those who are looking for help following the raid. He said he feels he is answering to a “higher calling” when he assists the immigrants.

“Right now we are just trying to meet the immediate needs of the families,” Velez said as volunteers unloaded bags and boxes of donated goods, from baby food to bottled water.

“In most of these cases, the bread-winner was the one taken,” he said.

Velez said Howard Industries was refusing to release paychecks Thursday to many of the families of workers who were arrested.

“One woman, her rent is due but she doesn’t have the money,” he said. “I have to help.”

This is just one American tale, one American town where Immigration and Customs is leaving a large footprint for others to examine.

The next time you hear that illegal immigrants are returning to Mexico voluntarily, you’ll know why.

Of course, this story does not address the issue of Tyson Foods, the Biggest of the Big, which legally imports Somalis, Marianna islanders, and other poorest of the poor to work under appalling conditions in their meat processing plants. Tyson Foods truly is a villain; it is also a huge donor to both political parties. I don’t knowlingly buy a Tyson product, not just for moral reasons, but out of concern for my health.

Last January, in Emporia, Kansas one of their imported employees died of TB while fixing the chicken you may have had for dinner.

Refugee Resettlement Watch says that Tyson finally had to severely cut back its operation in Emporia.

The writer of that post closes her argument this way:

I’m all for putting all the information out to the public and letting the citizens of a community hear all the facts and have some say in the sort of community they want. The federal government working with businesses like Tyson’s Food shouldn’t be able to dictate the character of a city or town.[emphasis in the original]

Refugee Resettlement Watch is by far the go-to blog on the effects of immigration. They have information you will not find elsewhere. Here are a few samples:

Reporter Raped in Makeshift Refugee Camp in France

The petite brunette had been warned by local police not to go to the camp as it was a dangerous place for lone females.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the rape victim asked for it (or maybe I am). I blame this foolish decision on her part on this politically correct notion promoted by the Left in Europe (and here in the US) that all these impoverished refugees from war-torn countries need is a home and some love and understanding.

Refugees Loaded With Health Problems

In 2007, 889 refugees arriving in Utah had health screenings. 219 were found to have Tuberculosis, 182 parasites, 28 Hepat[itis] B, 11 lead, 8 HIV, and 6 STDs.

And the top post today, a most intriguing take on the presidential campaign:

Iraqis in America Weigh in on McCain v. Obama

I won’t spoil if for you by giving away any of the statistics or the reluctant conclusions of those interviewed.

One thought on “An American Tale: the Perfect Cultural Storm

  1. Dymphna:

    ““Howard Industries has done nothing wrong and has not been charged”, an underlined sentence in the document reads.”

    I do so love how they buy into their fictional person…and expect YOU to buy into it, too.

    “Howard Industries” cannot have done anything wrong because it is nothing more than a legal fiction.

    There are, however, real people who work for Howard Industries who made the decision to hire illegal aliens and enforced company policy to keep them on the payroll, to the detriment of the citizens and legal aliens of Jones County.

    Let me be clear on this…the person(s) who made those decisions must be sent to prison.
    (And not the “Club Fed” or community service scam, but the “House of Pain” where they can worry about rapes and shankings by the OTHER convicts. NO “class system” in the Penitentiary).

    As for “Howard Industries”, a nice big BITE that each stockholder has to pay up for should do the trick.

    If you’re looking for the next civil war in America, this is one of the kinds of places and cicumstances where it’s likely to start.

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