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Workers fired from foundry, community provides support

on December 23, 2011

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.

Mateo Marin with his kids. The father of five has worked in Pacific Steel Casting for 14 years. (photo by: Evelyn Xiaoqing Pi)

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.”

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin spoke for the fired workers. (photo by: Evelyn Xiaoqing Pi)

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.”


  1. seriousface on December 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    My heart goes out to those laid off and their families. But that’s life! what do you tell a young man in his 20’s who’s actively searching and seeking a job does, everything in his power but can’t seem to land a job? Who’s a legal resident born in raised who can’t get a job if his life depended on it but this illegal immigrant can come here illegally and get work just like that. The biggest slap in the face ever.

    • CD Elliot on December 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      It’s a sad situation indeed but I totally agree with you seriousface… now these guys in the streets need to put down their guns and go apply for one of those jobs

  2. violet on December 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    My heart goes out to these illegal aliens, but the law is the law, if Americans are to show their legal and honest social security numbers and legal names, they should also!
    If Americans are to get investigated by having background checks before they are hired at any employment in America so should they! illegal aliens just can not invade America, and try to change our laws to just benefit them! They just can not just walk all over America’s poor and middle class citzens, by getting in the front line to our American jobs! $18 an hours is a good salary for any poor or middle class American, and millions of them will do millions of jobs illegal alien are doing! that is just a sorry excuse to just keep illegal alien in our jobs on their illegal status, to help all their wrongdoings and illegal status to get ignored!!!!!

  3. Richmond warrior on December 29, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Funny how a country made up of Immigrants and there ancestors is so against Immigrants because they come from a Certain Background or Culture or Color. many of these people have been pushed out by Policies implemented by our Goverment like Nafta yet many of you are to Lazy to read up on this or to blind to even begin to understand.

    • Jeff S on January 4, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Exactly. I’ll support restrictive immigration policies for people when capital is treated the same way.

      “Funny how a country made up of Immigrants and there ancestors is so against Immigrants because they come from a Certain Background or Culture or Color. many of these people have been pushed out by Policies implemented by our Goverment like Nafta yet many of you are to Lazy to read up on this or to blind to even begin to understand.”

  4. MTC on December 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

    So much to say, but let me remind all that there is no “line” to get into, that most undocumented immigrants would gladly get in “line” but are simply too poor to afford this and come from countries that are corrupt, so they come here to make a living, they work hard and are part of the back-bone of this country. NOW, let me also clarify this, the majority of the undocumented are paid minimum wage or less (yes less), the young legal kids who are looking for work are not interested in minimum wage, not in a serious way anyways. So much to say about how companies truly make their money on the back of all workers.
    Proud Mexican immigrant

  5. Tony Suggs on December 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    So, because someone is from a poor country, then they should be given “special treatment?”

    How about people from Haiti, if they can swim across the Carribean, should they be allowed to stay? What about people from Ethiopia, Somalia, Bosnia, Yemen, etc? Those are all poor countries with people just wanting a better life for their families.

    Race has nothing to do with it. I know of Koreans, Canadians, Chinese, and many others being deported back for being or staying in the country illegally.

    I guess we should adopt the laws of most other countries. Lets take Mexico since everyone thinks its all about them. If someone wants to move to Mexico, you must apply, register, show proof of income or money to support yourself and must apply for essentially a work permit. If you are caught in Mexico “illegally” you face jail and then deportation.

    Just research how bad Mexico treats “immigrants” in its southern border. Robbery, rape and murder of Central American “immigrants” by the Mexican military or police is common. Check it our for yourself.

    Why should the U.S be any different from the countries that the people are leaving from? We should require their citizens to go through the same process that they require of ours to.

    Finally, the illegal problem was there long before NAFTRA was in effect. The corruption of Mexican officials is a major part of why their people want to leave.

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