Ohio Has Become Ground Zero for ICE's Workplace Raids

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While Trump’s “zero-tolerance” stance toward illegal immigration plays out with horrific results in Texas, Ohio has improbably become ground zero for workplace raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).

ICE is an outfit bearing ever greater resemblance to Hitler’s Gestapo, and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, the Ohio Student Association and other activist groups have called for the agency’s outright abolishment.

“[ICE] has become an unaccountable paramilitary force whose main goal seems to be executing violent attacks upon the most vulnerable members of our society,” the Ohio Student Association said in its release condemning the recent Ohio raids.

Two of ICE’s largest crackdowns at U.S. job sites in nearly a decade occurred within a 90-minute drive of Cleveland: at Corso’s Garden Center in Sandusky earlier this month, and at the Fresh Mark meatpacking location in Salem, Ohio — between Canton and Youngstown — last week.

The Salem raid, which resulted in the arrest of 146 undocumented workers, primarily from Guatemala, surpassed the roughly 120 arrests made in Sandusky.

It is as of yet unknown how many of the most recent arrests will result in deportations, but the workers were bused to a Brooklyn Heights facility for processing late Tuesday night and will likely be held in detention facilities throughout Ohio and Michigan, including the Seneca and Geauga County jails, and the Calhoun County Jail in Michigan.

In a news release, ICE said that some of those arrested in the Salem raid had been released for “humanitarian reasons,” likely because of dependent family members or serious health conditions of their own. The number of those released has not been specified. (In Sandusky, for comparison, 13 of the 119 total arrested workers were released.)

Salem’s First Christian Church, which has been raising money for the affected families, told Scene that to their knowledge, all 50-60 children with arrested parents were now safe and secure.

“All of the kids have been placed into safe and caring hands until they can be reunited with their families,” posted FCC’s Lead Pastor, Leonard Moore, to Facebook. “Please pray that this can happen as soon as possible.”

But much like Fresh Mark itself, local faith groups and volunteer organizations — to say nothing of Columbiana County’s Department of Job and Family Services — had no time to make provisions for emergency childcare. The raid was executed by ICE agents with no prior notice and was reportedly the culmination of a yearlong investigation. It was a similar story in Sandusky, where even the local police were unaware of the ICE raid until it occurred.

Fresh Mark is a family-owned company, based in Massillon, with more than 1,000 employees across its multiple locations. It provides bacon, sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats — including the Sugardale brand locally — to grocery stores, delis and stadiums across the country.

Fresh Mark claims to have been the first Ohio company to participate in ICE’s voluntary IMAGE program, (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers). Under that program, Fresh Mark participates in the Department of Homeland Security’s e-verify program and submits to regular inspections of tax forms, provisions designed to ensure a “lawful workforce.”

The undocumented workers are presumed to have been using fraudulent identification, including the social security numbers of dead people.

One sinister side effect of the workplace raids, according to Christine Owens, the Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, is that workers will now be too intimidated to speak up about hazardous workplace conditions.

Owens said this is acutely true in dangerous industries like meatpacking, and at companies like Fresh Mark, where an employee was killed on the job and two suffered “serious amputations” in the past six months alone.

“Rather than hold employers accountable for violating basic worker protections simply to inflate profits and undercut competitors,” Owens said in a statement, “this administration has chosen to target and arrest the workers. This strategy can only drive other immigrant workers subjected to substandard conditions further into the shadows and further deteriorate working conditions across already low-wage industries across this country.”

The Fresh Mark conditions aren’t terribly unlike Corso’s Garden Center, where one worker told Scene that she had worked 13-hour days six or seven days per week during peak times for three seasons.

At a Norwalk trailer park, where families of those arrested in the Sandusky raid now live in constant terror and grief, another tragedy struck in the days following the raid.

Nurses from a small Tiffin-based medical company volunteered to provide basic medical care for the families in the trailer park. They first examined Carmen, a woman whose 20-year-old daughter, Fabiola, was being detained in Michigan after the raid.

Just one day earlier, Carmen’s son Silvano died suddenly. Carmen told Scene that her son became listless and pale after learning his sister was detained. He stopped eating. The two siblings were extremely close; Silvano often wouldn’t start a meal until Fabiola was at the table, Carmen said.

It’s not clear if Silvano, who was 24 years old, had a medical condition that contributed to his death. Carmen said she had taken him to the hospital in Norwalk months before, but doctors didn’t find anything wrong with him.

Now Carmen faces a terrible choice: either return to Mexico with her son’s remains, or stay close to her daughter. But like all undocumented mothers in the United States in this grim new era, Carmen understands a harsh reality: It is she, not the Statue of Liberty, who is a mother of exiles, and she is no longer welcome here.

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