Skip to comments.Whitewater Factory Struggles to stay Open After Worker Raid
Posted on 07/18/2007 3:54:50 PM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
WHITEWATER, WI -- Star Packaging is all but silent a year after a raid by federal immigration agents.
A lone machine clacked on a recent afternoon, a single worker sealing plastic bags around bundles of screws. Beyond him, a flank of packaging assembly lines stood motionless. Empty pallets were stacked to the ceiling, and the reaches of the 58,000-square-foot warehouse, once filled with goods received and ready to deliver, yawned wide.
The Whitewater plant that once employed 100 workers now has fewer than 10. Its founder, scheduled to go to trial Monday, faces some 30 years in prison if convicted, and Hispanic and Anglo neighbors are still trying to rebuild trust.
Crystal Petrie, the 26-year-old daughter of Star owner Allen Petrie, struggled to bite back anger and grief while talking about the fate of the business her father started.
"He's very hurt by what happened," she said. She said her father cooperated with police, providing information on any worker about whom they raised questions.
About a quarter of Star workers were taken into custody after the raid on Aug. 8, 2006, but that was just the start for the plant workers and owners.
"We lost accounts because of the negative publicity," Crystal Petrie said while walking through the empty plant on July 12.
As business dropped off, layoffs followed. Now it's a question how long the business can stay open.
"It won't be much longer if we can't recover business," said Petrie, who worked at the plant since age 18, skipping college to bet her future on the family business her father founded in the early 1980s.
She opened the doors of the family factory to a tour organized by Voces de la Frontera, an advocacy group for immigrant and low-wage workers.
At a forum at city hall that day, immigrants seized in the raid told of their experiences.
Luz Huitron, a 55-year-old grandmother, said through an interpreter that she was taken to the Dodge County Jail and did not understand what was happening. A diabetic, she was crying and vomiting, but was given no medical treatment, she said. With the assistance of the Mexican consulate, Huitron was released in nine days. Now under an order of deportation, she and a handful of others seized in the raid are trying to win the right to stay in the United States.
"Each and every one of us works to survive and support a family. People judge us but supporting a family is not a crime," she said, crying. "I cannot remain silent about this," she said.
Bianca Cruz, age 8, asked at the forum: "Why does the government say it takes care of us, then take my mother away?"
The girl's mother, Mora Cruz, 28, said later with her daughter's help, "She was really sad. She didn't know where I was."
Bianca and her younger brother were cared for by an aunt for the nine days Mora Cruz was in custody.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, based in Milwaukee, said that, as in the past, immigration foes have pitted working people against each other. But the two groups' interests are closely aligned, she said. "If a country supports the quality of life of its immigrant workers, it will uphold the quality of life of its citizens."
"We need to change the laws so they fit reality and fit our values," she said. "We need a simple, affordable process to citizenship. Congress can do it, but the political will probably is not there."
'They broke the law':
Those speaking at the forum in Whitewater were sympathetic to immigrant workers, but other sessions have drawn proponents of stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws and deportation of undocumented workers, Neumann-Ortiz said, most notably members of the Washington D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the federation, said in an interview that the federal government should make more workplace raids and arrest more employers.
"If they get serious and go after the executive who knowingly hire illegals, it will send out the message that you can't do it and get away with it," Mehlman said.
Computer systems to quickly and efficiently verify the Social Security numbers presented by workers could easily be developed and would be if not for bureaucratic inertia and the influence of business interests that want cheap labor, he said.
Departing undocumented workers may hurt the businesses where they worked, but their presence depresses local and national economies, Mehlman argued. "We should not have an economic system that allows illegals to dictate wages -- it'll destroy the middle class."
Mehlman is unmoved by the plight of parents separated from their children, or business owners who find their life's work threatened when authorities take workers. "Whose fault is that?" he asked. "They broke the law, and there's a consequence to that."
City Manager Kevin Brunner estimates that up to 10 percent of his town's 14,000 residents are Hispanic, a group whose population in the area has been growing rapidly in the last decade. Hispanics are employed in all kinds of occupations at all levels and have begun to open their own businesses, he said.
Brunner said long-time residents and new ones mostly lived well together with a few incidents: the occasional piece of racist graffiti, the nasty letter to the local paper prompted by news of his initiative to have city staff learn Spanish.
After the raid on Star Packaging, though, the community was polarized. "There were those that felt it was justified and those who said it wasn't," he said.
He characterized Star as a medium-sized, low-wage employer, and said the loss of its jobs, and possibly the company, was "significant."
Marilyn Kienbaum runs the city food pantry, which saw a flurry of activity as workers lost their jobs at Star. "I think it could have been handled differently," she said. The Hispanics in Whitewater, she said, "are scared to death. I feel bad for them."
Tales of their treatment in local jails shocked her, Kienbaum said. "For heaven's sake, this is Wisconsin."
Police Chief James Coan said attention to the case has focused too much on the immigration issues, and not the identify theft aspects -- the basis of the charges against Petrie.
Coan said he could not elaborate of details, but alleged that some undocumented Star employees were using the Social Security numbers of legal immigrants. "Many Hispanic people themselves were victimized," he said.
Petrie's attorney, Stephen Glynn of Milwaukee, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article. In published articles, however, Glynn has said that Petrie did not intend to violate the law.
The raid has led to some changes designed to make Hispanics feel more comfortable in Whitewater. Following meetings after the raid with members of the Hispanic community, the city changed its practice of having police officers ask drivers in traffic stops for their Social Security numbers, Coan said. "Our purpose was very benign," he said, merely a way to help collect any unpaid tickets.
"We asked everyone for it for several years, but we got a strong sense that people in the Hispanic community thought we were trying to capture information we could use for deportation. That was obviously not the case," he said.
Despite the changed policy, the damage is done, Jorge Islas, founder of Sigma America, an organization dedicated to building community, said in an interview.
"Whitewater used to be a peaceful town -- everybody working, everybody trusting the police, everybody living together. The raid created fear," he said.
The publicity after the raid sealed the popular image of undocumented immigrant workers as "criminals" for those inclined to think of them that way, he said.
At a silent protest outside city hall after the raid, "a lot of Anglos came and said they were sorry this happened, other people said, you're illegal -- go back to your country.'"
Islas said he worked for Allen Petrie at Star shortly after he came to Whitewater 19 years ago and he had no problems. Hispanics who have worked there recently also said it was a decent place to work, Islas said.
Since the raid, some Hispanics left the area. Others are out of work and having trouble paying the bills. "The immigration law is broken," Islas said.
The fissures keep moving through a community long after the raids are over and the headlines forgotten, Crystal Petrie said.
"People think life goes on -- it doesn't," she said.
-what part of illegal do these people not understand?
I thought this was a Clinton thread.
“I thought this was a Clinton thread.”
It COULD be, but it’s too close to dinner-time for pictures of either of them for my tastes, LOL!
Boo freaking hoo. What about the taxpayers whose ID they stole scared to death after the IRS bills them for taxes and penalties, who now have to explain to the IRS they didn’t hold down 3 jobs in 3 different states? What about the taxpayers paying for the illegal immigrants kids education and all the emergency rooms full of illegals? What about the employers who paid legal workers and went out of business because unscrupulous creeps like this one hired cheap illegals and undercut the law abiding employers prices? Come here legally or don’t come. Pay more and hire legal workers. No sympathy for me for any of these people, they all broke the law.
I say deport, deport, deport. Send those who employ them to prison. What RIGHT to stay in the U.S? It’s a privilege for those who are here legally.
Yoy beat me to it.....
Uh, if you commit a crime to support your family, it's a crime.
In the spirit of Jesse Jackson:
If to the immigration laws they cannot comport,
The illegal aliens we must then deport!
WE ARE NOT ANGLOS WE ARE AMERICANS! Something that YOU are NOT!
“We need to change the laws so they fit reality and fit our values”
How about we enforce the laws that are consistent with American values?
The sense of entitlement that these people display is mind boggling.
I don't think those that advocate amnesty for these people have thought about what would happen if they were to become legal. I bet it wouldn't take a week before they would demand a union for immigrant workers. There goes that cheap labor.
They've had a year to do it. Wonder why they haven't?
How about we enforce the laws that are consistent with American values?
The sense of entitlement that these people display is mind boggling.
On top of your remarks I also don't give two figs about fitting their "values"!
Shows that people DO care about the illegal immigrant problem and refuse to support those that employ them.
Maybe they like things the way they are? Nah...
Where to start...
“that was just the start for the plant workers and owners. “We lost accounts because of the negative publicity,” Crystal Petrie said”
Worse news I’m afraid, Crystal...You will NEVER get my account...I dont deal with shady companies...
“Bianca Cruz, age 8, asked at the forum: “Why does the government say it takes care of us, then take my mother away?”
No, Bianca, there is no Santa Claus...Nor does Uncle Sam Claus say he will take care of you...someone lied to you, honey...
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, ... said that, as in the past, immigration foes have pitted working people against each other.... But the two groups’ interests are closely aligned, she said. “If a country supports the quality of life of its immigrant workers, it will uphold the quality of life of its citizens.”
That’s right, immigrants are important...but these pepople are NOT immigrants..They are illegal aliens, Christian...
“We need to change the laws so they fit reality and fit our values,” she said.
AHHHHHHHHHHH NO...We do NOT need to change the laws of the US to “fit” illegal aliens...They are not “We the People”...The lcurrent law fit the American citizens, thank you...
“We need a simple, affordable process to citizenship”
We have one already thank you...I’m an immigrant and it was realitively a “simple, affordable process to citizenship” for me...
“The raid has led to some changes designed to make Hispanics feel more comfortable in Whitewater. Following meetings after the raid with members of the Hispanic community, the city changed its practice of having police officers ask drivers in traffic stops for their Social Security numbers, Coan said. “Our purpose was very benign,” he said, merely a way to help collect any unpaid tickets”
You notice that nobody is ever concerned about the comfort of the American citizen community? There is never a meeting with the REAL residents of the area...The Americans are never asked for their opinion or input...The ones paying for everything are never consulted...
Show up and work at a low-skill, low-wage job, somehow that makes you a superstar that needs special treatment in a new country. I don’t think so.
Cry me a river and then go to prison for hiring illegals.
I read articles like this and I want to riot, I really do.
Then how come they don't want to do anything about it?
The "amnesty" bill is defeated. So how come no one is proposing a *real* bill to stop illegals?
How come there aren't more people working to stop bilingual education and enforce immersion?
If there's this huge majority that wants to fix the problem, what are their proposals?
Welcome to the BEST contry on earth!
My initial comment was going to be to ask if others absolutely HATE being referred to as “Anglos” as much as I do. Glad to see I’m not alone! :)
Man, these sob stories are beyond belief! What’s the difference if this man used illegal labor to profit from his business or if he embezzled the pension fund ala Enron? Illegal is illegal. And it’s even worse that he was aiding CRIMINALS using other peoples stolen identities.
(And don’t call me “Shirley” either, LOL!)
Uh, gee, maybe you shouldn’t hire criminals?
I think "We the People" do want it but the skunks in DC just won't listen.
Look how hard it was to make them hear us on this last shamnesty bill.
Here’s one for your ping list.
I am surprised someone hasn’t filed a RICO lawsuit against the owners and taken the rest of their assets.
But if we get to pick and choose which laws we will follow then there are a lot of traitors in DC that better wear body armor! ;)
Because the Quislings in Congress and the White House won’t even enforce existing laws.
Why the hell do we need new ones?
Yeah. I guess we'll have to live with what we've got.
How many illegals are coming in every year? 2 million?
it should be “cry me a river, build a bridge and
get over it”. To the other side of THE BORDER!!!
But your quote does suffice. ;-}
Didn’t mean to imply that we have to live with what we got.
I hammer my reps constantly (not that it will do any good with Matinez).
And I vote the issue.
The world’s smallest violin is somewhere on this page playing “Cry a Tear”....or some other idiotic tune...
Seriously, are we REALLY suppose to have sympathy? I would like to see more of this all over the country - lock up those who choose to hire illegals.
For all the wild hand wringing of some in the Latino community this is just as much about stopping the exploitation of Mexican nationals in the US as it is about deporting them. We don't want an underclass of serfs or helots.
I'd rather live a second class life on the margins of US society than live in Mexico too. That doesn't make exploiting people OK.
Too bad we can’t “black list” Star Packaging.
I hope they do go out of business.
So tired of the success of business being based on the cheap labor prices of illegals.
And, yes they CAN be deported.
So when are they going to change the laws on employee ID so we can arrest employers of illegals?
This particular case they got the employer because the employer knew they were hiring illegals and the feds could prove it. That's almost never the case.
You better believe that other businesses in the area could care less about most of this story, but on this, they'll focus like a laser beam. Any time a company is raided and found to employ illegals, pressure companies to cease doing business with them. Tell family and friends. Since there is usually minimal penalties for companies that employ illegals, the most effective tool we have is in shutting down their customer path.
what about the other factories that this one forced out of business by hiring illegal workers?
Thats a great way to get back those customers who left because you were hiring illegals. Idiot
“City Manager Kevin Brunner estimates that up to 10 percent of his town’s 14,000 residents are Hispanic, a group whose population in the area has been growing rapidly in the last decade. Hispanics are employed in all kinds of occupations at all levels and have begun to open their own businesses, he said. “
Are they legal?
Life's a bitch...
” We also have given to the Whitewater lions Club Aid for the homeless, Walworth County Sheriffs Department Fund, as well as being proud supporters of the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D) chapter”
If the BATFE was put in charge of immigration there would not be an illegal alien in sight within a few months. There would be none in the country within a year.
However, if ICE was in charge of the BATFE’s duties people would be able to get away with using dynamite to fish in public fountains and would be hunting at the zoo.
The Federal government knows this as well as the rest of us do, they just have an agenda. A disarmed NAU.
My heart bleeds. Hire Americans and legals only.