July 03, 2008
And now they arrest the bosses

I had wondered why the recent ICE raid at a rag plant didn't result in any charges being filed against the employers. Now I see that has happened.

This morning a U.S. magistrate in Houston is scheduled to preside over the initial court appearance of two owners and three managers of Action Rags USA. The eastside company, located in a sweltering factory near the Port of Houston, was the scene of one of Houston's largest immigration raids when 166 undocumented workers were detained June 25.

Federal charges were unsealed late Wednesday after agents arrested company owner Mabarik Kahlon, 45, and his partner and uncle, Rasheed Ahmed, 58. Also arrested Wednesday were manager Cirila Barron, 38, resource manager Valerie Rodriguez, 34, and warehouse supervisor Mayra Herrera-Gutierrez, 32. Ahmed, who has health problems, was freed on his own recognizance until today's court appearance. The rest remain in federal custody.

Barron and Herrera-Gutierrez are illegal immigrants from Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Houston.

The five are charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, inducing illegal immigrants to come into the country, as well as illegal hiring practices including knowingly accepting false work documents.

''Immigration is a political issue and until it is solved politically, any employer is at risk," said David Gerger, a prominent Houston attorney who is representing the owners. ''But as far as this case goes, we will defend it in court and not in the press." Gerger represented former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow during his criminal case.

The arrests of the company leaders were applauded by those who favor tough enforcement of immigration laws.

''Employers who knowingly hire illegals need to face the consequences, and the consequences are prosecution," said U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble. ''Employers have been getting a pass way too long on hiring illegals and not being held accountable for it."

Well, if that's the approach you've chosen to take, it's better to arrest the employers as well as the employees, who after all wouldn't be there without those who hired them. But again, this is a stupid way of doing it. Make it easier for companies like Action Rags to legally import and hire foreign workers, and ensure those workers have a path to citizenship and the same rights and protections as native born workers, and a whole slew of problems go away. Why is this so hard?

A letter to the editor puts that same sentiment in a slightly different fashion:

Monday's Page One article, "ICE Raids often spare employers" quoted U.S. Reps. Ted Poe and John Culberson calling for the prosecution of employers hiring illegal aliens.

I have supported both congressmen in the past and consider them great allies on many different causes, but their comments reveal an alarming hostility to the folks who provide jobs in our city, state and nation. Employers must navigate the minefield of laws that govern the workplace. On one side, Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells them, "Don't hire any illegal aliens, or you might go to jail your-self!" On the other side, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tells them, "Don't look at that ID too closely or we will sue you for discrimination." People forget that five years before ICE raided the Swift meatpacking plants, Swift had paid out a $200,000 settlement to the Department of Justice for scrutinizing its employment documents too closely.

Employers are caught in a Catch-22 created by our government's failure to solve the immigration problem. Poe and Culberson should spend more time trying to pass sensible immigration reform and less time bashing the folks who put food on the table for millions of people in this city and great state!


There's a huge amount of room to make improvements here, and no good reason not to. What's holding things back is a strong and persistent belief among some vocal opponents of immigration that meeting the real needs of the employment market by increasing the number of visas available for both skilled and unskilled labor would be harmful to American culture. They're wrong, and we need to get past that attitude or we'll never solve this problem.

Finally, I recommend Council Member James Rodriguez's words on the initial ICE raid, which are quoted at Marc Campos' site. Well said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 03, 2008 to National news
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