Arrests of dairy workers raise questions on enforcement
ADDISON COUNTY — Recent arrests of dairy farmworkers by federal authorities has led to accusations that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is targeting migrant laborers who are leaders in the farmworker movement for detention. ICE maintains that it is simply carrying out federal law.
Addison County farmworker Miguel Alcudia, 23, remains in ICE custody in the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover, N.H., and is awaiting a bail hearing, following his Sept. 22 arrest in Vergennes.
Alcudia is one of 12 Addison County farmworkers arrested by ICE since late April, said Will Lambek of the Burlington organization Migrant Justice. Lambek said that nine farmworkers besides Alcudia are still in ICE custody, but declined to name those workers or where they were being held.
“In the case of Miguel, it’s clear to us that ICE is not following their own rules,” said Lambek. “We see ICE as kind of going rogue in Addison County and leaving their own priorities in order to target people who are farmworker organizers or leaders in the farmworker community.”
In an email to the Independent ICE New England Spokesperson Shawn Neudauer said that “ICE is holding Mr. Alcudia for overstaying a lawful visit to the United States.”
A statement released by Neudauer Sept. 22 said that “as a recent immigration violator, Mr. Alcudia is an ICE enforcement priority. He will be entered into removal (deportation) proceedings and will remain in ICE custody pending the outcome of those proceedings.”
Lambek characterized the arrests as a “part of a trend of increased ICE activity in Vermont” and described Alcudia’s as “the second high profile detention of a Vermont farmworker leader this year.” Victor Diaz, a farmworker also active through Migrant Justice, was arrested last April and later released on $1,500 bail; Lambek said his case has not yet been resolved.
Alcudia’s attorney, Matt Cameron in Boston, said that the case “fits into what I have come to see as a concerning pattern of abusive immigration enforcement in Vermont.”
According to Lambek, undercover ICE agents staked out the Addison County farm where Alcudia works, followed him into Vergennes as he drove to town to deposit his paycheck, and arrested him outside his bank.
Alcudia has been prominent in Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity campaign to win better wages, work and living conditions for farmworkers in Vermont’s dairy industry. He is part of the organization’s Farm Worker Coordinating Committee, has been involved in outreach to workers on other dairy farms, has helped set the agendas for the quarterly assemblies at which farmworkers gather to discuss issues, and has helped organize farmworker community events such as a soccer tournament in Burlington this past summer that brought together farmworkers from Vermont and New Hampshire.
According to Lambek, Alcudia came to Vermont from New York state, where he had also been working in dairies, in 2014 and joined Migrant Justice after experiencing what Lambek called “wage theft” at his first job on a Vermont dairy farm. He has remained in Addison County, working on dairies and organizing through Migrant Justice since 2014.
Current ICE priorities are expressed in the November 2014 memorandum from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson that acknowledges DHS can’t remove all persons illegally in the United States, but should develop smart enforcement priorities.
The memo establishes three priorities: the top two emphasize taking action against those convicted of terrorism, felonies or violent crimes. A third priority is those aliens “who have been issued a final order of removal on or after Jan. 1, 2014.” A further standard of detention is whether it is in “the public interest.”
His attorney said Alcudia first entered the country with a legal work visa, but that visa expired. Cameron said that ICE was holding Alcudia as an alleged violator of Priority 2d “aliens who … have significantly abused the visa or visa waiver programs.”
Cameron called the idea that Alcudia’s case fits the “significantly abused” criteria “ludicrous.”
“He came on an employment visa,” said Cameron. “He came once on a visa in 2014 and he overstayed it and that’s the whole story. There’s nothing else to it. I haven’t seen anybody like this getting enforced on. And the only conclusion that I can reach, especially after seeing this pattern of conduct that ICE has been engaging in, it seems to me that they’re going after Migrant Justice leaders, people in the movement who’ve been working for farmworkers rights. That’s really disturbing on a number of levels.”
Asked to respond to that assertion and clarify ICE’s position on such actions, Neudauer told the Independent, “You’re asking me to clarify a policy position that hasn’t been clarified previously. So obviously that’s going to need some additional vetting.”
In an email to the Independent from his New Hampshire jail cell, Alcudia said, as translated by Lambek, “I came to Vermont because there were more opportunities to live a freer and more peaceful life.”
Alcudia continued, “I am a member of Migrant Justice because I see the need. A lot of farmworkers don’t have dignified conditions in their work and housing. They work 13 hours without breaks, for below the minimum wage, often without safety equipment. We aren’t treated with dignity and I want to help change that.”
Farm work is exempted from minimum wage law and overtime law in Vermont but is subject to Vermont statues concerning payment schedules and working conditions.
Alcudia’s bail is set at $21,000. Advocates hope to see that reduced at a bail hearing, the date of which has not been set.
To see the Vermont Farm Worker Wage, Hour and Housing Fact Sheet, created through the collaborative efforts of farmers, Migrant Justice and many state agencies click here.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: On Sunday, Oct. 16, Migrant Justice spokesman Will Lambeck told us: Miguel was released on Thursday night. ICE changed his bail to $0, prompting his immediate release. He may still have to appear in front on animmigration judge in the near future, but a date is not yet set. ICE didn’t specify exactly why they changed his bail, but I would bet that the public pressure and questions from reporters had something to do with it!