On May 12, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, detaining nearly 400 undocumented workers. The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault dispatched victim service advocates to the area to work with families and community members torn apart in the aftermath of the raid. What we discovered is that the raids in Postville were largely seen as an act of retaliation against workers who reported sexual abuse and assault. At the time, this was the largest ICE raid in U.S. history.
More than a decade later, nearly 700 workers were detained at seven poultry plants in Morton, Mississippi, last week. In 2018, Koch Foods - the company that owned one of these Mississippi plants - settled a $3.75 million lawsuit with workers.
This lawsuit outlines rampant racist abuse and sexual harassment and assault of Latino workers. Court documents reveal that managers and supervisors groped women while they were working, physically assaulted workers, and made employees give them money in order to get time off or even take a bathroom break. Furthermore, supervisors threatened to turn workers in to the authorities if they spoke up about the abuse.
One has to wonder if it's merely a coincidence that the recent raids in Mississippi took place at the same plants where workers reported mistreatment. It's important to acknowledge the link between oppression and sexual violence. Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault is being used as a tool to oppress and silence workers.
This isn’t just happening in Postville and Mississippi, either Salem, OH, and Morristown, TN, also witnessed ICE raids following complaints of worker conditions.
These workers are contributing members of our society. They deserve to be heard. Their voices are important.
For more information about ICE raids and the link to reports of abuse, see the following: