After 14 years working at Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley, Mateo Marin will be fired by the end of January. He is one of more than 200 immigrant workers without papers, mostly from Mexico, losing their jobs from October to January after a work eligibility form audit conducted by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At a rally Sunday at St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Richmond and Berkeley city leaders spoke out against the firings.
“These mass firings erode the rights of all workers,” said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “We really need to stand together at these times.”
About half of the workers are Richmond or San Pablo residents. Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a North California advocacy group, organized the event in Richmond to offer food and help families facing the prospect of unemployment. Marin, a father of five and the sole income earner in his family, said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next.
ICE conducts so-called “silent raids”— an audit of a company’s I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Forms, which employers collect when workers are hired – and fines employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Instead of sweeps at factories, which led to deportations but rarely consequences for the factories, the Obama Administration’s policy of silent raids is intended to target employers.
Workers often avoid deportation, but they lose their jobs.
ICE conducted more than 2,496 I-9 audits nationwide during fiscal year 2011, issuing about 400 fines to companies totaling more than $10.4 million, according to Virginia Kice, the agency’s western regional communications director.
Kice would not confirm the audit at PSC. She said ICE only confirms that an employer has been audited when the review results in ICE taking a public enforcement action.
“ICE’s worksite enforcement effort is on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers,” Kice wrote in an email. “ICE is committed to working WITH businesses that want to do the right thing and are interested in hiring and maintaining a legal workforce.”
But Elisabeth Jewel, a spokesperson for PSC, said that the mass firing is the direct result of the ICE audit, though the company did not pay any fines or face any criminal or civil prosecution.
“It is a heart-breaking situation for the factory and of course for the workers and their family,” Jewel said. She added that the factory is functioning in full capacity and has been hiring new workers for six months.
The city councils in Berkeley and Oakland passed resolutions opposing the firings at PSC.
“I believe that any policy that destroys our economic functioning, that destroys our established community, destroys all of us,” Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said Sunday.
The event was held on Dec. 18, the United Nations International Day of the Migrant. Most of workers set to be fired came to the event with family.
Marin works 48 hours per week at Pacific Steel, and earns about $900, which allows him to pursue additional job training in electrical work while supporting his family. Talking about his 16-year-old son, Marin said with a big smile, “He said he wants to go to UC Berkeley.”
But the father does not have an idea of how he can afford the college tuition.
“I might go to look for a job in electrics trouble shooting,” Marin said. “But I don’t have a plan yet.”