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Immigration Reforms:
How a Broken System Breaks Communities


Immigration Reforms

From top: Noami Perez, former American Apparel worker who was fired; inside an American Apparel factory; Wide shot of American Apparel factory building, with their advertisement for "Legalize LA." Photo Credit: Patrick Burke

If there’s one thing to be said about the U.S. immigration system, it’s that there’s universal support for change.  But when it comes to answers, the viewpoints are all over the map. Congress is planning to make some changes in 2010, but in the meantime, state and federal immigration laws remain confusing and are sporadically enforced.   On this edition, we go to two communities sorting through the aftermath of Bush-era federal immigration raids, and to Los Angeles, where American Apparel became the first test case of the Obama administration’s new approach to workplace hiring violations.

This program was funded in part by, a community supported journalism project.


Andrea, Las Americas store manager; Angelica Olmedo & Eber Eleria, Howard Industries workers arrested in Laurel Raid; Bill Deutch, Catholic Charities & Hispanic ministries bi-lingual counselor; Meyer, kosher grocery store owner; Mark Grey, University of Iowa Anthropology professor and co-author of ‘Postville: Surviving Diversity in Small-town America’; Scott, Agriprocessors employee; Former Agriprocessors workers; Michelle Devlin, University of Iowa Public Health professor and co-author of ‘Postville: Surviving Diversity in Small-town America’; Maryn Olsen, Postville Response Coalition coordinator; Bill Chandler, Mississippi Immigrant’s Rights Alliance Executive Director; Noami Perez, Maricela Perez & Sergio, laid-off American Apparel workers; Roberto Suro, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Professor; Peter Schey, American Apparel attorney and Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation Executive Director; Natalia Garcia, UCLA Downtown Labor Center Administrative Assistant; Anonymous, unidentified Fake ID salesman in MacArthur Park.

Contributing Producer: Patrick Burke
Voiceovers: Megan Martenyi, Lisa Rudman, Pauline Bartolone, Alton Byrd

The Local Aftermath of Bush-era Workplace Immigration Raids

by Andrew Stelzer

Part of President Bush’s approach was to carry out federal raids on workplaces with undocumented immigrants – targeting the workers themselves, not those who hired them.  But rather than solving the problem, those raids, for the most part, only made things worse. Making Contact producer Andrew Stelzer visited two communities where the largest raids happened in 2008. He found that when the immigrants were sent away, communities were dismantled.

Obama’s New Immigration Policy Forces Massive Layoff at American Apparel

by Patrick Burke

In September 2009, we began to see what President Obama’s immigration policy would look like. It played out in Los Angles after American Apparel, a US based clothing company, laid off more than sixteen hundred workers.   Instead of facing huge fines for employing undocumented workers, American Apparel laid of its immigrant workforce. On the surface, this might seem like a more humane approach.  In a collaboration with Spot.Us Patrick Burke reports from L.A.;  where for the community at large, the result may not be that much different from the Bush-era raids.

For More Information:

American Apparel
Los Angeles, CA

Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
Los Angeles, CA

Howard Industries
Laurel, MS

Mississippi Immigrant’s Rights Alliance
Jackson, MS

Saint Bridget’s Hispanic Ministry
Postville, IA

UCLA Downtown Labor Center
Los Angeles, CA

Articles, Blogs, Films, Reports, Other

Legalize LA

‘Postville, USA: Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America’
By Mark A. Grey, Michele Devlin & Aaron Goldsmith

‘How an Immigration Raid Changed a Town’
By Steve Dinnen, The Christian Science Monitor

‘Immigration Crackdown Shifts Focus to Employers’
By Miriam Jordan & Sabrina Shankman, The Wall Street Journal

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1 Comment

  1. This is definitely a story that needs to be told. With the escalating growth in Latino communities across the nation, “immigration raids” are a serious problem for people simply trying to work and support their families.

    I like the fact that the “Making Contact” focuses on the fact that the immigrant workers and NOT those who employ them, have been the focus of the government’s raids. The story focuses on this issue and the impact it’s having on communities from across America from Mississippi to Iowa, and it really needs to be brought to the main stream public’s attention.

    Although something obviously has to be done to address the controversy surrounding immigration reform, it’s obvious that rounding up, arresting or firing undocumented immigrants isn’t the answer.

    It appears to me that the focus needs to be more on the EMPLOYERS who actually hire illegal immigrants and those employers are the ones who need to be held more accountable.

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