The ACLU of Southern California is deeply concerned by federal agents’ abrupt decision to detain and initiate deportation proceedings against an immigrant worker who filed a federal class action lawsuit against a Fullerton-based firm in August for labor and civil rights violations.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE), agents arrested Osfel Andrade Wednesday morning at his home. Andrade is one of four named plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Southern California in August against Terra Universal, Inc.
Agents raided the Fullerton-based manufacturing company in June and arrested 43 workers. The company is currently under investigation by ICE and the U.S. Department of Labor. Terra Universal produces “clean rooms” and other high tech laboratory equipment for NASA and the United States military, as well as the private sector.
Mr. Andrade’s arrest appears to be a direct consequence of having filed the complaint against his former employer for back wages.
Federal officials must protect immigrants who are victims of unscrupulous employers; targeting them for deportation inadvertently aids those who exploit them.
“By singling out and targeting one of four plaintiffs in this lawsuit, ICE sends a very clear and counterproductive message to immigrant workers: if you are a victim of exploitation, don’t complain because you might be deported,” said Jennie Pasquarella, a staff attorney with the ACLU/SC.
“ICE went after a worker who had stood up to defend his rights and claim the back wages owed by his employer,” Pasquarella said. “This action undercuts federal officials’ ability to go after unscrupulous employers by driving immigrant workers further underground.”
Like the workers who were arrested and prosecuted in 2008 at a Postville meatpacking plant in Iowa, Mr. Andrade has provided information to authorities. He is eligible for a visa for victims who assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator.
Mr. Andrade and other employees cooperated with investigators by providing evidence of a systematic scheme of workplace exploitation by providing hundreds of payroll and employment documents that corroborate years of unlawful activity.
Terra Universal routinely required its largely immigrant workforce to work overtime hours without pay. The company used a fraudulent time system to evade government scrutiny. It required workers, including Andrade, to clock out at the end of an 8-hour work shift and clock back in as a “second job.” Workers who complained about workplace issues or who suffered injuries were fired, had their pay deducted or their hours reduced and were verbally abused.
The ACLU/SC, along with its co-counsel Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick filed suit in August on behalf of Andrade and other workers.