Cruelty for Cruelty’s Sake

Perhaps you missed this story if you’re not much of a news watcher, but last week, on the first day of school in Mississippi, ICE raided a poultry processing factory and rounded up 680 immigrants. Even though the raid was planned well in advance, there was no warning for the affected families. Which means their kids came home from the first day of school to find the house locked and their parents gone without a word.

You may have seen heart-breaking footage of these children, who are American citizens, crying and begging for their parents back.

Please note: The raid was planned in advance. But the planners did not call Child Protective Services so that they could prepare to receive these suddenly orphaned children.

This is cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

It may remind you of this passage in Anne Frank’s journal:

“Terrible things are happening outside… poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. Families are torn apart; men, women and children are separated. Children come home from school to find that their parents have disappeared.” — Anne Frank (Jan 13, 1943)

Like me, you may be wondering what kind of mental gymnastics is required to justify this cruelty. Like me, you may be wondering what consequences the employer, Koch Foods, will face; the employer who provided fake SSNs for the employees and knowingly hired them — not despite their immigration status, but because of their immigration status — which allows the employer to exploit their labor, to pay them less than a legal wage, and not be held accountable for horrible work environments.

From what I’ve read, apparently, Koch Foods will face zero consequences for their illegal actions. I could scream.

Something else you may not have heard — the raid came after Koch Foods settled a $3.75 million sexual harassment lawsuit:

The lawsuit brought by the EEOC against Koch Food Inc’s alleged “that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities.”

Many immigrants rights advocates have speculated that workers are targeted for raids after their facilities get investigated for worker abuse. 

Remember, these are not criminals that are being rounded up. These are not dangerous people. These are people willing to take jobs that no one else is willing to take. The rotisserie chicken you pick up tonight after work? Your affordable dinner is made possible by these workers.

But that’s not all. Something else I learned is that the poultry industry in the south has spent the last 25 years actively recruiting immigrants to work at their plants in an effort to exploit their labor. And those immigrants have now established vibrant, deep-rooted communities in the South — which are being targeted and destroyed by ICE.

If your first thought is, well, it’s their own fault, they should have gone through the proper immigration channels, just stop. Read this tweet and the comments in response about how difficult and racist our immigration system is. If you are brown or black, it can takes decades and cost thousands of dollars. If you are white, it’s pretty fast and straightforward.

Lastly, there’s more news today. The Trump administration “announced they will penalize legal immigrants who rely on public programs, such as food stamps and government-subsidized housing, as part of a sweeping new policy to slow legal immigration into the United States and reduce the number of immigrants who are granted permanent legal status.

Who is this likely to impact the most? The children of these immigrants — and remember, the children are U.S. citizens.

So don’t try and argue that people just need to come here legally. It’s not about legal immigration and it never has been. Remember, there are over 600,000 people from Europe and Canada living in the U.S. with expired visas, but we haven’t seen any of them rounded up and put in cages.

Are these stories news to you? Or have you been following these headlines? How are you feeling about all this? My friend Laura Mayes, who lives in Texas, has been going directly to immigration processing centers to figure out how to help. I’m hoping she can write up what she’s learned and share it with us.

40 thoughts on “Cruelty for Cruelty’s Sake”

  1. Hello Gabby,

    This also makes me want to scream. It is not about immigration – it’s about racism at it’s dirtiest and most vile realization.

    How to help . . . .

    (1) Donate to the Fair Fight Bond fund to help immigrants raise money to leave detention centers while waiting for their hearings.

    (2) Donate to, or host a fundraising for, an immigrant rights attorney organization. Here in Seattle, we donate to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

    (3) Follow an immigrant rights website. NWIRP has a great one outlining the various court changes and what they are doing, and also has a page on how to become more involved.

    (4) Read and post “Know Your Rights” posters in your neighborhood (and pass them out to your neighbors). A good primer can be found here.

    (5) Show up to an organized detention center to protest. We have several detention centers near Seattle. My 12 year old son has requested to attend in his Boy Scout uniform with his chosen sign – “Where are the Children?”

    (6) Contact a local shelter to see what they need for diapers/clothing/essential needs for released detainees and children


    1. Thank you for giving me a call to action. I am so grateful to Gabby for helping inform me of issues such as these and sometimes the best I can do is do a quick donation, but I hope “anything helps” in these cases. I am heartbroken over these reports and yet so happy that we live in a day and age where people can’t hide their bad behavior anymore and wonderful people such as yourselves help spread the word. Thank you – it’s easier to do nothing and I’m always grateful for the people who take the time to do something.

      1. This makes me scream and cry simulataneously. I love the ideas mentioned.

        Also: follow and encourage others to follow Instagram accounts that tell refugee stories and encourage others to do so. Hearing personal sure is such a powerful way to change hearts. My favorites are @tsosrefugees (stands for their story is our story) is a similar format to humans of new York.

    2. More way to help …

      Donate to – to help families who are out of detention but waiting for their asylum or immigration cases to be heard.

      Follow or read @ConMijente – this site gives updates on immigration happenings and occasionally requests volunteers to provide emergent temporary housing.

  2. I have been following these stories, and I am just sick about what this administration is doing. To me, it seems wholly un-American.

    My father was a proud (legal) immigrant (from Ireland) who was as patriotic as any native-born citizen. Perhaps more so because he adopted this country as his own. I have known many, many other immigrants who were the same. (I would venture to say that a fair chunk of native-born Americans couldn’t pass the exam required to become a naturalized American.)

    I truly believe immigration is one of our country’s greatest strengths and that we do a disservice not only to immigrants but to ourselves by engaging in the kind of acts that we’ve seen with regularity since the current administration began.

  3. Eleanor Frances

    Thank you for writing this. It is quite informative and what is happening in our country is truly cruelty to humanity and dangerous to every single one of us.

  4. Thank you for bringing attention to all of this. My heart is broken on behalf of the separated families, and I’m enraged that it’s happening in my country. And I feel helpless–how do we stop it?

  5. What is sick is that many expat Americans would renounce their US citizenship but can’t afford the $2450 renunciation fee (but also find it expensive to stay ‘compliant’- paying taxes to both the nation they reside in & the US – the US is the only country that taxes its citizens even if they reside in another country). US citizenship is expensive to acquire and expensive to be rid of and expensive to maintain if you don’t live in the USA.

    1. Feel like I didn’t respond to the message of your post, though. Yes, it is cruelty for cruelty’s sake. No longer any ‘plausible deniability’ as to our country’s behavior.

      1. You would have to continue paying taxes on American source income, as even non-resident, non-citizens do. You wouldn’t have to continue paying US taxes on money earned in the host country, which is already taxed by the host country.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I live in a community in Indiana that is well over 30% Hispanic, and the panic is spreading–some neighbors I met when they saved my dog who had slipped through the fence have sold their house and moved away.
    The bitter irony is that EVERY employer is desperate for help. “Help wanted” signs are everywhere in this county–if you can stand up and chew gum (and pass a drug test) at the same time you can get a job here. We NEED those immigrants.
    I trust you also read the stories about all the people who are illegal immigrants who work at Trump-owned properties–which were not targeted.
    And the exploitative employers walk free. It makes me so angry I can hardly see straight.

    1. The idea that most immigrants are taking away American jobs is ludicrous. They take the worst of the worst jobs. Jobs most Americans would refuse to do, the dirtiest and the most dangerous … Housework and janitorial, migratory field labor in the boiling hot sun, gardeners, car washers, animal carcass processing. And for the worst wages too. Often times these raided plants never reopen again, meaning less industry for everyone across the board.

  7. I am following this story with every spare second I have. Thank you for raising it with your readers – I think immigrant working conditions are right next to gun violence and climate change in terms of pressing issues that keep me up at night. All families, whether their children are citizens or not, deserve better. There is plenty to go around, if only we allow it to.

  8. I am an immigration attorney, and I agree with everything you have written except that ANYONE is enjoying “pretty fast and straightforward” legal immigration these days. Have you read about the “crisis-level” backlog at USCIS? This deeply impacts legal immigrants, their families, their employers, and the U.S. economy. This article is from January and it’s only gotten worse since then.

  9. Gabby, I think it’s high time you admit you’re over the “Design Mom” phase of your life. You’re a lightning rod for women and woke men. Your plain-speaking, straight-shooting delivery packs a punch and jostles folks to attention (and hopefully, action). I wish you had an interest in politics…I think you could go far.

    1. Yes, please, please, please…the world needs voices like Gabby’s! Intelligent, compassionate, level-headed and kind. Please consider it Gabby!

      1. Hear! Hear!
        Doesn’t it seem that time, circumstances, and the political, social, and environmental climate are all pointing to Gabrielle Blair? The importance of your voice right now cannot be overstated.

  10. Thank you for the detailed information. It has been heart breaking to read and know this is happening in our country. While it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with everything, it is encouraging to know someone like you, with a large platform, will write and share the truth!

  11. Whenever someone visits us on Bainbridge Island, we take them to the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, just down the road from our house. The exhibit, which has the foundational idea of “Nidoto Nai Yoni” (Let it Not Happen Again), commemorates the internment of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942. It’s a very sad but powerful reminder of what happens when we let ourselves fall into the trap of believing that there is an “other.” Thank you for continuing to have the courage to speak up for those who don’t have a voice.

  12. I want to ask a question, but I will ask everyone to please respond kindly because this is a genuine question.
    And, before I ask, let me say that I agree with Gabby that this is “cruelty for cruelty’s sake” and am not opposing anything she’s written here.

    Question- is it wrong to knowingly hire illegal immigrants (using this term for clarity’s sake)?

    Obviously Koch is a bad example. So, I am only talking about hiring them in circumstances where the employer is not exploiting their status.

    Americans vilify companies and individuals who hire illegal immigrants. Yet, hiring them seems like a way to offer real help. What am I missing?

    Again- please be kind. I am genuinely trying to better inform myself.

    1. I think that’s a great question, V.

      People hire immigrants who don’t have legal status all the time. In every city in America right this minute, there are immigrants who don’t have work visas who are cleaning houses, working construction, harvesting food, and doing all sorts of manual labor. And it’s not unusual for the the person hiring to not ask about status and then pay in cash.

      I agree that if someone is in need of work, offering them an opportunity to earn money seems like a nice thing to do. Especially if whoever is doing the hiring is eager to pay a decent wage.

      But of course, it’s complicated. Because if someone is getting paid under the table in cash, they have no protections. If the employer cheats them, what can they do? Who can they complain to and seek justice from? If they get hurt on the job, they don’t have access to worker’s compensation. And they don’t have access to work benefits like health insurance and social security.

      For decades we’ve let this don’t-ask-don’t-tell immigrant work situation happen in the U.S.. I suppose we all agreed that was easier and more convenient than rigorously debating true immigration reform. We really really like cheap goods, and cheap labor, and we’ve had a seemingly never ending list of people who want a chance to make it in America and are willing to take the jobs that Americans, and those with work visas, aren’t willing to do. Again, for decades and decades we’ve let this go on. Which means immigrants have founded communities here. They’ve put down roots. Had babies and grown families. And we’ve all — every single one of us — benefitted from their labor and from what they add to our country.

      But now, all of sudden, we’re pulling out the rug from beneath them.

      The BEST situation would be: making it much easier to gain legal working status in the U.S.. We need workers. Immigrants want to work. And giving them legal working status (like work visas or citizenship) would protect them from having their labor exploited. Would it raise the cost of some products and services? Possibly. Or maybe companies and their CEOs and shareholders would just earn a bit less. This situation seems like it could be achievable. EVERYONE knows the current immigration system is unworkable. Everyone wants to see improvements. But it’s not likely to happen when a good chunk of the country has become convinced immigrants are rapists and murderers who are trying to take their jobs.

      If the best case scenario can’t happen, then I suppose letting people continue to work and raise their families, like we’ve largely done for decades, seems like the next best option.

      Perhaps there’s something in-between those options I haven’t heard of — I’m certainly all ears.

      Obviously, the worst possible option is offering work to immigrants without legal status (even recruiting them!!!), and then rounding them up, separating families, holding people in cages, and then deporting them. It’s horrific for the immigrants, and it certainly doesn’t help American citizens either. No one benefits.

      1. I appreciate your response and it feels inline with my own. What I most appreciate is that you can and DO articulate your opinions. Someone asked me my thoughts the other day, and I replied that I couldn’t even form an objective opinion any more because, especially as a mother, I’m just too emotionally triggered when I see the impact on families and children. I appreciate that you can still look at these issues through a logical lens. I don’t however believe that “that a good chunk of the country has become convinced immigrants are rapists and murders who are trying to take their jobs”. I live in the South (Charleston, SC) and grew up in a very rural, agriculture-centered Georgia small town. And even here I don’t hear this narrative except on the news. I’m not saying that to correct you…just to encourage you that hope is not lost.

  13. I’m a physician, I live in Southern California, and I speak Spanish, so what to do in all this was kind of a slam-dunk— I spent a very long day on Saturday seeing patients in two refugee/migrant shelters in TJ. It was mostly moms and kids (not rapists, murderers, and bad hombres, as one jackass has said), because the dads were out working. And when they make it to the US, they work the kinds of jobs that no one here wants. And I doctor them here too— the work conditions are appalling. We all benefit from their labor through cheap clothes, cheap fast food, cheap produce, cheap care for our elders…and then they get arrested and torn from their kids.

  14. I grew up working side by side with them in Texas. They need GUEST work permits. We need their labor. They need work. We cannot have open borders. I really don’t think people can comprehend the quantities of people who want in. I live in China. US cities are small by comparison. No one thinks beyond the border of Baja, but everyone wants in! 20 years ago at my in-laws’ house in Baja we had to be careful at night about the Chinese smuggling down there. We also need LEGAL immigration to continue. Also, the employers should be severely fined. Ann Coulter wants to know why the employers won’t be punished due to this recent situation. THEY SHOULD! We need a solution. We won’t get one.

    1. A big problem with “guest worker” or other temporary fixes is that when you let them last 20+ years (like TPS for Salvadorans), then you want to pull the rug out, what happens to those hundreds of thousands of mixed-status families? Those American children and grandchildren of Salvadorans now in their 50s who arrived as teenagers? What about the homes and businesses they own? The “Dreamers” are in prime adulthood years now to get married and have children and build their careers. Every year longer they stay means more collateral damage when DACA finally ends, if it ends, unless there’s a clear and fair path to lawful permanent residence.

      It is Trump’s goal to end DACA and to end TPS for almost everyone, and it’s only because it’s all tied up in the courts now that they still exist. So millions of families limp along waiting to see if they can still live here for a few months longer.

  15. American-Canadian perspective: I grew up in Southern California, surrounded by recent immigrants doing work that most White Americans either wouldn’t do or wouldn’t do for what Hispanic workers would accept. (There were also people from many other places in the world in my childhood and they played important roles in me understanding the immense privileges I enjoyed as someone born in the US.) Those stories have a powerful impact on how I see immigration. And, those stories impact what I am teaching my children about people in our community.

    After spending my life until 34 in the US, I moved to Canada and became an immigrant but no one identifies me that way because I’m white and English is my first language. We have a better system here for immigration and granting refugee status but it is far from perfect and there is growing resistance to newcomers, especially those of colour or who come from places in chaos. Canadians can certainly do better too. Canada has a guest worker program and those individuals are employed largely in the agricultural industry. (It is so widespread with our greenhouses here that our little Canadian county has its own Mexican consulate office.) We need these people and they are important members of our community.

    People who can work should be welcomed. People escaping chaos should be welcomed too. If we go far enough back (and sometimes not so far back), most of us are immigrants from somewhere. And, employers who have benefitted from underpaying and undersupporting their employees should face massive consequences for their profiteering.

  16. Thank you for facilitating discussion and encouraging action on this crucial situation! A couple more suggestions to get involved:

    1) Amplify the Children: Create and display artwork inspired by and giving voice to the direct testimony of immigrant children in custody.

    2) Lawyer Moms of America has drafted an open letter to Congress on the matter and is encouraging direct action on August 22.

  17. Pingback: Cruelty for Cruelty’s Sake – Stumblecup

  18. I’ve been working with immigrant families from around the world in the public education system for 25 years. I agree with what many commenters are saying about what immigrants bring to the literal table. Even guest workers here in the Washington State apple industry work insane hours with almost no time off.

    Making it harder and more insecure to be here increases the trauma, and interruption of schooling as different permutations of parents and kids move from one side of the border and back, worry about close family members who are far away, etc.

    Economic opportunity is not the only reason people risk coming here. Access to quality, affordable education through the end of high school is more tenuous in Mexico and parts of Central America. I’ve met a lot of intelligent parents whose families were not able to afford the expenses of their high school education in their country and didn’t want their kids to have the same problem.

    I also know people who have come here without documents because their parents or community have rejected them after they came out. LGBTQ acceptance and tolerance are not the same all around the world.

    In addition, there are the safety issues. For example, I have families from Honduras in my school. How could they expect that government and the police there to protect them from corruption, extortion, and drug violence if the Honduran president’s brother is a drug trafficker? Similar issues exist in El Salvador and many parts of Mexico. I had female students who loved school reporting that if someone could not escort them to elementary, they did not go because of the safety risks.

    So give to your local immigrants rights organizations, and to those who are helping at the border. Support organizations that are making inroads to increase education, security and human rights around the world. Make sure everyone you know votes and is registered to vote. Contact your lawmaker and let them know what you want them to support. Support those running against lawmakers who are supporting these shameful actions against humanity.

    Whenever I am in a conversation where I get asked about whether my students are “illegal,” I lay out the situation in these areas and say, “We all want the same thing for our families. To be safe, to feel secure, to have a future. If you were in the same situation, what would YOU do to protect your family?”

  19. You know, I disagree with/roll my eyes quite often about your posts, but I applaud this one. I hope that people like you will continue to speak up, and will make a difference at the next élections. Good luck America!

  20. I’m guessing you’ll get blowback for writing such a “political” post, but thank you for doing it — for doing the hard thing, for making us read the hard things, for risking your readership to flex the power of your platform.

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