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As Jean Valjean’s story in Les Miserables tells, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for having stolen bread to feed his children. Unfortunately, what is legal is often not fair.

Newspapers publish headlines that shock and boost sales by quenching the thirst for novelty, justice and good conscience while turning away other less glamorous aspects. Last week, immigration police raided a meat processing factory in a rural Irish town which supplies supermarkets and restaurants. The police found workers with insufficient or false documentation and immediately issued a large number of summary deportation orders. During the afternoon, some homes were searched by the police and workers’ telephones, cars and computers were seized. In the following days, the press was booming with sensationalist headlines, reassuring the public that the police were up to the challenge of acting against, as one headline read, “dangerous South-American gangs”. Up to this point, everything is legal, and no one would dare to question the action of the police, but I wonder, is this fair? Is the focus that the press gives to this story fair?

Each person must give, according to their values, an answer to these questions. I would like to take a look at what, in my opinion, the media is not telling us. Perhaps then can we have a complete answer and add the dimension of fairness to that of the law.

First, the papers do not recognise that these migrants were working to feed their families, as millions of people do daily in this country. In this sense, I ask myself: Is it fair to treat someone working for a living as a criminal? On the other hand, these migrants, like many others, were working to produce essential goods and services for the community. They produce the piece of meat served at this hour in a hotel in Dublin; they clean the hotel rooms where people spend their holidays, they fill the supermarket shelves where we all shop, and so many other vital services, yet poorly paid. Would you treat someone who works to produce the well-being you enjoy as a criminal? Aren’t you connected to this person and the work they do?

Thirdly, these migrants were working and paying taxes. Taxes, among other things, contributed to filling the gasoline tanks of the police vehicles where the detainees were transferred that day. Don’t you think that this expresses a sad and ironic reality? Who, in their right mind, would pay the salary of those who would put them in jail?

These migrants worked for the minimum wage, which we know is not enough to live on. Nonetheless, they started working at dawn daily to produce and pack goods everyone consumes. In this sense, the same people who buy those tabloid newspapers will be affected by the price hike that this company will have to implement to try to recover from the absence of a third of its employees. Many migrant workers come to Europe from countries where poverty is rampant, and their chief concern is to help their families to progress. Aren’t we part of that world that creates rich and poor countries? These migrants agreed to work long shifts doing a job that no Irish mother would want for their children. That is why, while children of Irish families study at university, young migrants from poor countries come to Ireland to work in factories and farms like this.

After all these points, tell me: doesn’t it seem unfair to you how the media has covered the news, leaving all this aside, emphasising the legal aspects of the actions and ignoring the vulnerability in which these people find themselves? Or the vulnerability in which many other migrant workers work and live? Some things are not fair, and we need to keep asking why.

Photo: Sebastian Silva:







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