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Immigrant rights attorneys filed a complaint against United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that alleges that ICE detained a migrant worker known for speaking out against workplace abuse at construction and poultry plants.
Baldomero Orozco Juarez, an indigenous father from Guatemala who lives in Mississippi, was arrested at an ICE check-in on April 12, 2023. Authorities sent Orozco Juarez to a private detention facility in Jena, Louisiana, owned by LaSalle Corrections. He faces deportation.
In 2019, Orozco Juarez was deported to Guatemala after the “largest workplace immigration raid in a single state.” Nearly 700 people at poultry plants owned by companies like Koch Foods and PECO foods were rounded up by ICE.
The Alliance for Justice & Equity (IAJE) in Mississippi, which Orozco Juarez and his wife Silvia Garcia Matias organized with in the city of Carthage, filed the complaint, along with Al Otro Lado, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Tulane Immigrant Rights Clinic.
The complaint [PDF] was submitted to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as the Office of the Inspector General for DHS.
Orozco Juarez became outspoken about the “impact of immigration enforcement on his family and community” after his detention in 2019. He and his wife advocated for policies that would help immigrants after the massive raid. Garcia Matias spoke to the press about what happened to her husband.
“In 2021, when Mr. Orozco Juarez was released to his family after re-entering the United States, the couple began organizing their community with IAJE,” according to the complaint. “Through IAJE, Mr. Orozco Juarez organized and facilitated meetings in which Carthage city officials and community members met.” They discussed issues that immigrants face on a daily basis.
Orozco Juarez accuses ICE agent Francisco Ayala of playing a key role in seeking his deportation. Ayala was allegedly present at an ICE appointment in 2021 and “berated” Orozco Juarez. “What are you doing here? I thought I deported you.” Ayala also allegedly added, “I could depot you at any time, you know?” And Ayala allegedly observed Orozco Juarez’s arrest on April 12.
Jeremy Jong, a staff attorney with Al Otro Lado, said the arrest and detention of Orozco Juarez sends a “despicable message to workers across the poultry industry and serves as a continuation of the harms caused by ICE’s workplace raids – the family separation, the intimidation, the assault on workers free speech.”
In 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ended the practice of “mass workplace arrests” by ICE agents. Jong maintained that policy change was the result of migrant workers like Orozco Juarez and his wife advocating for greater labor protections.
After the release of Secretary Mayorkas’ memo ending mass worksite raids and also calling for a broad review of policies that chill worker participation in labor and employment investigations, Mr. Orozco Juarez and his wife became public leaders in the #DALE campaign (“Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement”) to inform this policy review, joining the Blue Ribbon Commission. His wife spoke at a Washington, DC gathering of immigrant workers strategizing on workplace organizing and administrative advocacy, inspiring other workers to come forward to seek immigration protections and engage with the labor and immigration agencies developing new guidance.
In 2022, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with migrant workers, who were arrested in the 2019 raid against poultry plants in Mississippi. Then the Labor Department released a memo that sought to ensure immigrants were better protected “during labor disputes.”
The mass arrest of migrant workers in 2019 occurred at poultry plants, where workers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had called attention to discrimination and “widespread sexual harassment.”
Deporting migrant activists or whistleblowing migrant workers, like Orozco Juarez, ensures that migrants will stay silent when they observe abuse, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace.
“Given ICE’s apparent knowledge of Mr. Orozco Juarez and his wife’s very public speech and advocacy regarding the raid, we believe that there is a significant possibility that ICE retaliated against the couple by arresting Mr. Orozco Juarez and then refusing to release him after a public protest,” the complaint concludes.
“He must not be deported under these circumstances: a full investigation must follow, with immediate protection from deportation for Mr. Orozco Juarez, as a victim of retaliatory enforcement, and so that he can be interviewed as an essential witness to these events.”
Back in 2018, New York activist Ravi Ragbir faced deportation and alleged that he was targeted by ICE because he was the leader of an organization helping undocumented New Yorkers challenge anti-immigrant policies who engaged in "political speech."
ICE settled with Ragbir in 2022, and Ragbir won a three-year "reprieve" from deportation.
“What we did is a victory on many levels, because immigrants were being told we didn’t have any rights, especially First Amendment rights,” Ragbir told The Intercept. “We were able to take this up and prove this strategy to people who are now using the First Amendment as a way to challenge what is happening to them and the retaliation that they have experienced."
Ragbir's case could be a precedent that Orozco Juarez relies on as he fights deportation.