ICE agents arrest suspects in a 2017 raid. (Photo: DHS)
July 16, 2019 By David Silverberg
Today, July 16, marks the anniversary of one of the biggest law enforcement raids on migrant workers in Southwest Florida history.
It was on this date five years ago that Florida Division of Insurance Fraud investigators raided Incredible Fruit Dynamics in Naples and arrested 105 workers for fraudulent documentation, use of personal identification, identity theft and workers’ compensation fraud.
The anniversary comes as the threat of deportation raids continue to hang over Southwest Florida along with the rest of the country.
The 2014 raid demonstrated the role and extent of undocumented or fraudulently documented workers in the economy of Southwest Florida. It’s a role that continues today.
The company was owned by Alfie Oakes, owner of Oakes farms, Food & Thought organic farm market and Seed to Table.
At the time, authorities made clear that Oakes was not being charged; they were trying to find the source of the false documents. Oakes denied knowing anything about the undocumented workers in his employ. “We definitely knowingly never hired any illegals,” Oakes told The Naples Daily News. “The company hires only people that provide Social Security cards.” He and his brother Eric had purchased the company and kept the workers on, some of whom had been working there for over 10 years.
Though he checked Social Security cards, “If everything looks legit, we’re not allowed by law to challenge them,” he said, referring to discrimination laws. “It’s kind of a fine line when you’re hiring people.”
Southwest Florida has always been a center of cheap migrant labor, given its extensive agricultural sector. In 1960 the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow and CBS News exposed the harsh conditions under which migrant workers labored in the fields in Immokalee in its landmark documentary, “Harvest of Shame.”
This past weekend, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel made their presence known in Immokalee they succeeded in instilling fear—but from a law enforcement perspective, they also gave possible deportees time to flee. Unlike the 2014 raid, which was intended to actually catch wrongdoers, the point of this activity just seemed intended to terrorize.
Commentary: Terrorism vs. enforcement
In his campaign kickoff speech in Orlando on June 18, President Trump accused Democrats of being driven by “hatred, prejudice and rage” but that seems a perfect description of what is driving him and his approach to governing.
In the past, immigration enforcement was guided by an effort to effectively apprehend wrongdoers or suspects, while minimizing disruption but still sending a strong signal.
President Barack Obama’s administration was active in pursuing undocumented migrants who had committed crimes or had deportation orders against them. Between 2009 and 2011, federal authorities deported 385,000 people per year, according to Department of Homeland Security data. In 2012, that hit a high point of 409,000. However, the Obama effort was directed at migrants with criminal records who posed a danger to the community or those with court-ordered removal orders against them. They featured careful intelligence, stealth and discretion.
Despite broad allegations of migrant criminality by Trump, his enforcement efforts seem intended to just showboat, stoke fear and vent his bile against foreigners, particularly those from south of the US border.
This comes at the same time as the president’s latest eruptions on Twitter against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-5-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-7-Mass.). No other word will serve to describe his insults— it’s racism, pure and simple. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. From the day Trump announced his candidacy his racism, xenophobia and cruelty have been on full display. The only difference now is that he has no restraints and no filters, there’s just pure hatred, prejudice and rage.
In Southwest Florida, the member of Congress whose district encompasses Immokalee is Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.). When asked about the possibility of raids, arrests and deportations, all he would say was, “Until we have a real fix of a system that is totally broken and has gotten worse, these things are going to continue to happen,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s not an issue of what I support or not. ICE is going to follow the law and I expect them to follow the law and to do so in a way that’s honorable.”
Meanwhile, Diaz-Balart’s neighbor to the west, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has introduced legislation to cut legal immigration by half and make asylum-seeking more difficult both by shortening deadlines and restricting applications to ports of entry. Rooney’s legislation (House Resolution 481) doesn’t go as far as the administration, which is proposing a rule to prevent asylum applications at the border at all and only in the countries refugees are fleeing.
Diaz-Balart is right: The immigration system is broken and needs fixing. But anti-immigration hardliners have consistently sunk past efforts at bipartisan solutions and this president and his administration haven’t put forward any sane solutions other than a brick-and-mortar wall and the president’s “hatred, prejudice and rage” as expressed in cruelty and callousness toward refugees and asylum-seekers.
Democratic members of Congress and immigration advocacy groups are suing to prevent the administration’s proposed new rule and are demonstrating against the administration’s anti-immigrant actions.
This is the battle will be decided in the 2020 election.
As a side note, it’s worth following up on the Alfie Oakes story. On Aug. 13, 2018 the Naples Daily News reported that Oakes Farms Food & Distribution Services had been awarded a $46.8 million contract by the US Defense Logistics Agency to supply food to the military.
Six days later, Oakes posted a screed on Facebook against “the Democratic party recently morphing into all out socialism” and complaining that “current events are censored from the MSM [mainstream media] to support their one world order narrative.”
“The puppeteers that orchestrate the MSM, most of our universities, the [Democratic National Committee] along with the Obama administration have been pushing for a one world order that would ultimately destroy the opportunity for the individual,” he wrote. “We must with all our might reject socialism and adhere to the genius of the christian [sic] principles that our founding father so masterfully created (through the hand of GOD in my opinion) so that we may continue to be the beacon of the world for individual prosperity and freedom.”
It will be interesting to see if there are any raids this time at Oakes Farms.
Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg