MAY 12-18, 2008

1. IMMIGRATION RAID DESTROYING IOWA TOWN
2. TEXANS FILE SUIT TO STOP BORDER WALL
3. PRD SAGA CONTINUES
4. PEMEX DEBATE BEGINS IN CONGRESS
5. MERIDA INITIATIVE BEFORE CONGRESS


1. IMMIGRATION RAID DESTROYING IOWA TOWN
On Monday, the Bush administration carried out its largest workplace immigration raid to date in Postville, Iowa.  The raid at an Agriprocessor plant, the country’s largest producer of kosher meats and northeast Iowa’s largest employer, netted 389 undocumented workers.  Immigration officials charged 303 with illegal use of identification documents, a felony that could land them in prison.  The following day, half of the school system’s 600 students were absent, including 90% of Latino children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.  Many immigrants sought sanctuary in local churches.  The sudden incarceration of more than 10% of the town’s population of 2,300 “is like a natural disaster – only this one is manmade,” according to School Superintendent David Strudthoff. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came under attack from diverse quarters for focusing enforcement measures on working families while leaving employers virtually untouched.  Enforcement efforts against corporations that commit immigration violations have “plummeted,” according to Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).  Many observers saw the raid as a ploy to woo votes from anti-immigrant constituencies in the Fall presidential election, and also as a way to undermine an ongoing labor rights investigation at the plant.  ICE officials claimed 76% of the company’s 968 employees over the past three months used false Social Security numbers and the company employed 15-year-olds, yet no Agriprocessor official has been arrested.  Last month the company lost a federal appellate court decision over whether it could ignore a vote by workers at its Brooklyn distribution center to unionize on the grounds that those in favor were undocumented workers and not entitled to protection under US labor laws.  The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been trying to organize the Postville plant for several years.  The union accused immigration officials of derailing a separate investigation by the US Labor Department into child labor violations.  ICE may be “deporting 390 witnesses” to the labor investigation, according the union officials.  Workplace arrests have increased tenfold since 2002, from 510 to 4,940, while there were only 90 criminal arrests involving corporate officials during the same period. 

A lawsuit filed on behalf of workers on Thursday accused the government of violating constitutional rights through arbitrary and indefinite detention.  Postville residents expect to suffer the consequences of the raid for years to come as stores close and rental units go vacant.


2. TEXANS FILE SUIT TO STOP BORDER WALL
The Texas Border Coalition, composed of mayors and business leaders, filed a class-action lawsuit on Friday accusing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff of illegally convincing landowners to waive their property rights for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.  The coalition is seeking an injunction to block work on the wall.  Over the past year, officials from Homeland Security, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Customs and Border Patrol visited hundreds of landowners along the border, threatening many with lawsuits if they didn’t allow engineers to conduct feasibility studies for construction of the border wall.  Homeland Security wants to build 353 miles of border wall by year’s end, bringing the total border wall to 670 miles.  Mayors, business owners and landowners along the border are opposed to the wall because of its impact on cross border relations at the local level.


3. PRD SAGA CONTINUES
More than two months after internal party elections on March 16 to choose new national leaders, the (perhaps misnamed) Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is still unable to announce winners.  At least 840 petitions were filed this week with the National Commission of Guarantees, a party oversight body, challenging polling stations where the number of votes exceeded authorized ballots, stations that reported results but never officially opened, sites that reported results of more than 90% in favor of one candidate, and other anomalies.  In addition, party presidential candidate Alejandro Encinas filed a complaint with the Federal Electoral Commission claiming the party’s Central Committee illegally appointed a temporary president last week.  Encinas, who is closely aligned with former PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has refused to recognize the Federal Electoral Commission because of its role in upholding fraudulent national elections in 2006 that brought Felipe Calderon to the presidency.  Although Encinas characterized the Commission as “outside of the PRD and corrupt,” he was left with little institutional choice this week as his rival, Jesus Ortega, manipulated formal party and governmental bodies in his favor.  Currently Ortega leads Encinas when all polling sites are tabulated, though Encinas claims victory after deducting polling sites with anomalies.  Recently, information surfaced that at least party 4,000 polling sites were staffed by a coordinator or vice-coordinator who were not members of the PRD, an embarrassing violation of party rules.  PRD officials were apparently unable to find sufficient party members to manage their own internal elections.  With the internal election increasingly seen as a lost cause, the party appears to be moving toward an interim president with a national “refounding” congress to be held later this summer.


4. PEMEX DEBATE BEGINS IN CONGRESS
Formal debate on the privatization of Pemex began in Congress this week.  By most accounts, the forces opposed to privatization “won” the debate, though they probably “lost” the battle since what little press coverage there was focused mainly on the weak points made by pro-privatization forces aligned with President Felipe Calderon.  While the political class discussed the future of Mexican oil, most Mexicans faced rising food prices – tortillas are expected to top 12 pesos a kilo in short order -  in decreasing employment opportunities.


5. MERIDA INITIATIVE BEFORE CONGRESS
Mexican officials charged a high level police officer this week with the murder of the country’s top narcotics official, Edgar Millan.  In a country with a long history of cooperation between police and drug cartels, this caused little surprise in Mexico.  In the US, it inspired the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve US$1.6 billion in federal aid for Mexico’s “war on drugs,” an increase over the US$1.4 billion requested by the Bush administration.  US lawmakers are apparently blissfully unaware of the long history of close relations between Mexico’s major drug cartels and the country’s police, army and political class.  During the Zedillo administration, even Mexico’s drug czar, a former Army General who was approved by the US State Department, turned out to be on the payroll of a major cartel.  Virtually every local police force in the country, many former and current members of the Army, and dozens of local, state and federal politicians are aligned with one cartel or another.  Much of what passes for Calderon’s “war on drugs” appears to be cartels competing for lucrative markets, with the army and/or local police picking sides.  Traditionally there is an increase in violence with each change in administration as cartels and their political allies battle for territory, but the death toll during the first two years of the Calderon presidency is reaching historic proportions – more than 2,500 drug-related murders last year and over 1,200 so far this year.  Now the Bush administration wants to dump nearly half a billion US tax dollars a year, mainly for high tech weapons, helicopters and surveillance equipment, into this mess.  While a few US lawmakers are wary of the human rights implications as the army increasingly assumes control of vast swaths of the country, the so-called Merida Initiative – aka Plan Mexico – appears likely to pass in some form.  Tim Reiser, an aid to Senator Patrick Leahy, voiced “concerns that [the plan] will not do enough to address the institutional weaknesses that allow violence and impunity to flourish.  The problems are deeply rooted and there needs to be a broader, sustainable approach.”  In part because of Leahy’s concerns, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a version of the bill this week that conditions aid on the State Department verifying that Mexico is carrying out judicial and legal reforms, and that the funds are not used by police or military units that violate human rights or are corrupt.  The State Department will struggle to find units that meet these conditions - that is, if the Department takes the conditions seriously. 

The narcotics problem begins in the US, the major market for Mexico’s cocaine, heroine and marijuana, but the Merida Initiative conveniently departs from the myth that drug cartels end at the US-Mexico border.  Until the US assumes responsibility for its illegal drug markets, plans like the Merida Initiative will be awarding US tax dollars to the same corrupt officials who work hand in hand with Mexico’s cartels.