OSHA’s name used in operation to arrest illegal immigrants

Contractors in Goldsboro, N.C., were left short-staffed July 6 after a fake OSHA meeting led to the arrest of 48 construction workers.

Officers with the Federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement posted fliers at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base summoning immigrants who worked there to a mandatory OSHA safety-training class. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, when undocumented workers from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine arrived at the meeting, they were arrested. ICE said their employers didn’t know the immigrants were in the country illegally because each had submitted documents certifying American citizenship.

Felipe Bravo, a 47-year-old immigrant from Mexico City, was released when he proved he was an American citizen, according to the Institute for Southern Studies.

Pamela Groover, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Labor, said the organization had nothing to do with the scam and was upset its name was used. She did not respond as to whether legal action against ICE would take place.

“We work hard to build trust with immigrant workers, including hispanic workers, through innumerable efforts that are successful in greatly improving their health and safety in the workplace,” she said.

According to UFCW, there are more than 10 million foreign-born workers in the United States, making up about 15 percent of the workforce. Hispanic workers, many of whom work in construction, suffer 69 percent of on-the-job injuries and deaths.

A UFCW report said the type of sting operation used in Goldsboro has been used at several sites, causing immigrants to worry OSHA can’t be trusted. “For ICE to stage a sham OSHA meeting in order to round up and arrest people undermines OSHA’s mission, and is a step backwards for state and federal efforts to reduce worker injuries and deaths,” Joe Hansen, president of UFCW, said in a press release. “To (immigrant) workers, OSHA no longer means safety, but betrayal.”

But Dean Boyd, spokesman for ICE, told reporters the technique was used to crack down on illegal immigrants working at chemical plants, nuclear plants and other sensitive facilities. He said as far as he knew, the Goldsboro operation was the first in which OSHA’s name had been used, but the agency has used undercover tactics to trap illegal immigrants for years.

At least five bills pertaining to immigration have been introduced in Congress since July 1. Reps. Two bills introduced July 19 involved enhancing border enforcement. One also called for improvement in homeland security, removal of incentives for illegal immigration and establishment of a guest worker program.

You can reach Ebony Horton at ehorton@randallpub.com