Homeland Security Operates Sting Against Migrant Workers

DANBURY, Conn.—The U.S. Department of Homeland Security snatched 11 Ecuadorian day laborers from a public park here in a sting operation on Sept. 19.

An agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), posing as a construction contractor, lured the day laborers into an unmarked van with the promise of work. He then drove them instead to the parking lot of the Danbury police station, where a team of federal agents awaited to arrest them.

In order to evade legal challenge and streamline the deportation process, ICE spirited the day laborers 63 miles away from Danbury to the state capital of Hartford, and by nightfall had shuttled them another 100 miles to a county lockup in Boston.

The Danbury 11, as the detainees have become known, have not been charged with a crime. But federal authorities continue to withhold their right to contact their families and were refusing even to confirm their identities until a public pressure campaign took hold and forced this minor concession.

Danbury’s Mayor Mark Boughton is responsible for the sting, and has promised that more raids are to come. Boughton has tried to mute public outcry by reducing the attack to a simple matter of law enforcement. “It’s bad public policy to have laws on the books that are not enforced,” he recently asserted.

Boughton chooses to ignore the fact that U.S. immigration policy exploits the legal status of workers as a pretext to allow employers to pay them less and deny them basic rights on the job.

And Boughton is no passive observer, either. He is the author of a May 2005 proposal to deputize state police as federal immigration agents, which was later rejected as “impractical” by the state public safety commissioner. He also issued a citywide ban on volleyball games in residential areas. The game is a favorite pastime of Ecuadorian workers, but Boughton, in an appeal to racist sentiment, declared it a public nuisance.

Boughton has since founded a national network of politicians from towns that are “overrun” by undocumented immigrant workers. In the name of political ambition, he decries the toll that immigrant workers have taken on city services, while labeling amnesty as a solution that rewards “lawbreakers.” In short, he belongs to that pantheon of racist American politicians who kindle hatred to fuel their rise to power.

Raids on immigrants are part of the frontal assault on the living standards of U.S. workers. If immigrants are terrorized back into the shadows of the American workforce, the wheels are greased for the weakening of the unions and the decline of wages and conditions for all.

The federal sting met with a courageous response in the streets of Danbury on Sept. 30, when 200 immigrants and supporters braved the climate of fear to picket the offices of Mayor Boughton. They demanded freedom for the Danbury 11, an immediate end to the deportations, and the end to all collaboration between the Danbury police and federal immigration agents.

As a result of the protests, four of the 11 were freed on bail. The other seven, however, were sent to a jail in Texas.

On Oct. 12, ICE struck again in Danbury, raiding the homes of three immigrant workers and taking them prisoner. On the same day, a fourth immigrant was pulled over by Danbury police for improper use of his turn signal. The police called ICE and he was taken away.

A national campaign to free the Danbury 11 is underway. We have to put Homeland Security on notice that the American people will not sit by idly while tens of thousands of workers are snatched by force from their homes and workplaces.

We demand full legalization for all the undocumented, recognition of their right to work and live in peace, and the freedom to join unions and fight alongside native-born workers to win higher wages, shorter work-days, and health care and pensions for all.

Defend our civil liberties! Stop the deportations! If you would like to join the campaign to free the Danbury 11, call (203) 417-3590, or e-mail FreeTheDanbury11@yahoo.com.