Many of the more than 300 workers arrested in Postville raid this past May were immigrants from Guatemala. On Saturday, the Des Moines Register ran a great piece exploring the connection of Guatemalan immigrants and the town of Postville.
The main focus of the article is the abject poverty faced by many Gautemalans, poverty that leaves them with few options for survival. I had the privelege of working with rural Guatemalan communities a few years ago, and almost everyone I came in contact with had been, or knew someone who was, in the United States (or “el Norte”). Many Americans cannot begin to comprehend the level of poverty these communities face.
Guatemalans say the flow of humanity from their homeland will continue unless conditions improve in their country. Consider what everyday Guatemalans face:
Wages aren’t keeping pace with the fast-rising cost of food. The country has the highest birthrate in Latin America, and some of the worst crime. Schooling is inadequate or unavailable. The government is a democracy, but it is still trying to regain trust after a 36-year civil war that devastated many rural areas and left more than 200,000 dead or missing. Most of the country’s wealth is controlled by a small percentage of rich families, leaving few opportunities for ambitious young people.
For those of you who will scream that they should “stay and help to make their own country better”, let me remind you that the United States has a history of intervention in this country. Most specifically, helping to overthrow democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, under the umbrella of “anti-communism”. Arbenz ran on a promise of land reform – in other words, the administration was going to change the fact that most of the country’s wealth was controlled by a very small percentage of the population. And we went in and destroyed any hope of this change.
Now, Guatemalans continue to struggle for survival in their homeland. And despite the awful conditions that have been reported from the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, the Des Moines Register article reports that many of the immigrants deported after May’s raid have fond memories of their time in Postville.
Many former Postville workers speak fondly of their time in Iowa, despite the way it ended.
Sanail, 48, has few complaints about his job at Agriprocessors, where he spent five months packing meat into boxes for $7.50 an hour. That’s about how much money he could hope to make in a day in Guatemala, if he could find work.
On his bedroom wall, he displays a framed photo of himself in Postville. He laughed as he leafed through other pictures, which show him standing in knee-deep Iowa snow, bundled up against the unfamiliar cold.
He would love to go back, but he swears he will never be an illegal immigrant again. The price is too high.
Here is the worst of it: His American gamble might wind up costing him his family’s only solid asset, a half-acre plot of land.
Be sure to check out the full article at the Des Moines Register – its very well researched and a good resource for people trying to understand the reality of immigration from both sides of the border.