Update and review of the Greeley/Swift controversy

I have to warn you, this article I’m posting is a long and superficial piece about the controversy in Greeley, CO a few months back, the one we created an entire category to follow (here).    If you have been a regular reader of RRW and followed the recent news about Somalis getting into the US by lying about family members or that Somali young men are believed to be headed to terrorist training camps, this is the kind of story that will make you want to barf it is so one-sided.

The problem in Greeley, in a nutshell, is that Somalis flooded the town for jobs at the local JBS Swift meatpacking plant, then demanded special prayer breaks for Ramaden which Swift first gave them then took back when other ethnic workers at the plant protested.  Somalis walked off the job and were told to return to work by a certain time, those that did not were fired.   Swift stuck to its guns and many of the nomadic Somalis moved on to other meatpacking towns.

A few nuggets from yesterday’s article in Denver’s Westworld News follow.  Setting the scene for the clash of cultures:

Hispanics have been in Greeley for years, attracted by the many factory and agricultural jobs. But their numbers have swelled in recent decades, and they now make up at least 30 percent of the city’s population of 89,000, according to the U.S. Census.

Interestingly the clash of cultures came not from white Americans, but from the Hispanics primarily.  Other ethnic groups employed at Swift protested too.

How did the Somalis come to be in Greeley?

In December 2006, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials descended on the Swift plant, arresting and deporting hundreds of illegal workers as their families sobbed outside. The raid was part of a national crackdown that shook the meatpacking industry and left Swift desperate for a new source of cheap labor.

Refugees — those who fear persecution in their native countries and have been screened by the Department of Homeland Security for resettlement in America — are both cheap and legal. After the raid, some Somalis say, Swift sent recruiters to African restaurants in Denver, offering them cash to work in Greeley. The word spread quickly among Somali refugees from Denver to Kansas City to California, as friends and relatives talked up the job openings and the larger paychecks to be earned at the Swift plant.

Now we know from recent news that many of the Somalis are not here legally and could never have been screened by Homeland Security because they lied about who they are.  Kind of hard to screen someone who isn’t who they say they are.

So, when Swift refused to hire back the Somalis who walked off the job did they stay in Greeley or move on?  And, how is Greeley today?

Suddenly, Greeley had a different problem: Scores of Somalis, out of work and worried about making their rent. Within weeks, the fired workers began leaving town for jobs at packing plants in Fort Morgan, Nebraska and Minnesota. They emptied out the Greeley Islamic Center mosque, left vacant apartments, even shut down the only African restaurant in town, creating a massive rupture in the community.

I guess just as local citizens were being told to adjust to their new neighbors, poof, they were gone.  Most of them that is!

Remaining are the “community organizers” who had intrigued me while the controversy was on-going.    Graen Isse was the guy who had showed up in town just before all this started and then busied himself by talking to the likes of Arabic news outfits, blaming the problem on the Hispanics.  He told the Arab publication he had worked in America since he was 16, but from this puff-piece it would appear he had a typical American high school experience.    And, with an education like his, what was he doing looking for meatpacking work (even as a translator)?

Graen Isse, a local Somali leader, understands these conflicting impulses well. In his fourteen years in America, he’s bounced between three states. Now he’s trying to figure out how to help Greeley’s Somali community survive, even if he’s not sure how long he’ll stick around himself.

Slim and amiable, the 27-year-old Isse is constantly in motion — knee tapping, cell phone wire hanging from his ear, eyes scanning the room.  [who is he talking to and what is he looking for?]

[Supposedly separated from his parents as a child by the everpresent violence in Africa, miraculously one day his parents were found.]

One day, Isse’s older brother appeared and announced that their parents had escaped to neighboring Kenya. As his family was reunited, another of Isse’s brothers, who had been injured in the war, made it to California as a refugee. He told the government about his family back home, clearing the way for Isse and several members of his family to apply for refugee status and move to San Diego.

So Isse grew up as an American teenager, running track and playing high school football. After he graduated from high school in Minneapolis, where his mother had moved, his globetrotting continued. He took college classes in California, then completed his degree in Kenya before ending up back in San Diego. There he worked for a transportation tracking company, drove a taxi, even took some law school classes.

Isse moved to Greeley last summer because a friend from California, Aziz Dhies, was working as a nurse there and suggested that Isse might like the town as well. Isse was hired as a translator at Swift and had only been on the job for about a week when the Ramadan controversy began. He was thrust into the midst of the problem as he negotiated on behalf of hundreds of people whom he had only just met. He, too, was fired because he went home to eat and rest on the day the dispute was resolved instead of returning immediately to work. But he quickly found a new job, working part-time as a translator at the Weld County courts. And he and Dhies dedicated themselves to community organizing, forming the East Africa Community, which aims to be “the middleman between the leaders and our community,” Isse says.

I believe that Isse is a professional community organizer brought in to agitate the Swift workers, but I guess the big question is, who sent him?

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *