By Tony Wilkinson
Hundreds of neighbors, friends, family members, clergy and union members gathered in front of Berkeley old City Hall Friday, Feb. 17 for a March for Dignity that had been called to support 200 workers who were removed from their lobs at Pacific Steel as a result of a “silent” raid by the Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – also known as ICE.
With banners, strollers and a brass band, the marchers walked down University Avenue and then San Pablo Avenue to the plant on 2nd Street near Gilman. Many of the participants wore paper hearts, to show that their actions were a statement of love as well as solidarity.
ICE, instead of sending a team of armed agents to the plant, had simply instructed the company to remove the workers from the payroll for failing an “I-9” audit. The workers, who were all members of the Glass, Molders, Pottery Workers International union Local 164B, totaled about one-third of Pacific Steel Casting’s Berkeley plant, where they had worked between 5 and 20 years.
Those who had failed the ICE audit appeared to be working without residency documents and have lost their jobs and access to health care for their families.
One of the laid off workers, Jesus Navarro, had been waiting for a kidney transplant, but now without medical coverage, he has been denied treatment at UC San Francisco Medical Center.
The march concluded with a rally near the plant, calling on Congress and the Obama administration to implement immediate immigration reform that allows immigrants to work within a framework of peace, fair working conditions and unity with their families.
“How is it that the federal government can step into a community and put hundreds of union workers on the street, and yet they can’t address comprehensive immigration reforms?” One marcher asked.
“Why is it so easy to find hundreds of workers without papers when they can’t ‘t find a crooked banker in a sea of papers?”