9/11: A Step Forward, a Step Backward

Seven years after the events in New York City, our nation is taking successful baby steps toward integrating a growing number of Muslim immigrants. On this September 11, Gold’n Plump announced a federally mediated settlement for its Cold Spring meat plant here in Minnesota. Gold’n Plump agreed to allow Muslim laborers an extra ten-minute break to accommodate their daily prayer rituals. Additionally, the chicken-processing plant has also agreed not to require workers to sign a statement agreeing to handle pork, a task that is considered immoral in the Islam faith. (Serres, Chris)

Mediated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this case sets a precedent for future rulings on a host of similar workplace environment complaints. Here in Minnesota, the large Somali population has been filling much of the manual labor openings in meat-packing plants and other factories. While a ten-minute break might not seem ground-breaking for most Mid-Westerners, for the thousands of Somalis and for the recent surge of Iraqi refugees this is a welcome long overdue. Earlier in the year several workers were dismissed from a Mission tortilla factory in New Brighton for refusing to adopt the dress code of pants and short-sleeve shirts for religious reasons. (Serres, Chris)

In a nation hyper-sensitive to national defense and homeland security, the Gold’n Plump settlement is significant progress towards integrating an entire people group that has so far existed only on the periphery of American culture. As has always been the case, immigrant groups contribute most to a culture and are most satisfied when they have a sense of belonging within their new land. Integration is the best Department of Homeland Security the United States has ever had. Hopefully this Gold’n Plump settlement signals an era when the United States will spend more on English-as-a-Second-Language classes than it does on military translators, a time when America invests more in its immigrant groups than in creating refugees in distant lands, a new beginning when integration trumps deportation or criminalization as our policy towards newcomers to the American dream.

Sadly, that day is not yet here. In another breaking news item this past week, a prostitution ring was broken up in Austin, MN. Keila Villanueva and Miguel Isep-Roman, both American citizens, ran a brothel and a prostitution ring in Austin and the Twin Cities (Ruzek, Tim).  As is so often the case, the prostitutes were illegal immigrants coerced into selling themselves for money and continued secrecy. While Somalis moved toward a fuller integration in American life this past week, extralegal workers are still living lives of secrecy, still susceptible to being manipulated by corporations trying to save a few dollars or people who see them as a means to an end. As long as public policy continues to hold out no hope for extralegal immigrants to work towards citizenship, we will still have millions of people living without basic human rights. They will work in our factories and our fields, in our brothels and night clubs, not because of lack of experience or potential but merely because they lack some papers. This should not be.

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