Tag Archives: agriprocessors

VIDEO: In the Shadow of the Raid


“In the Shadow of the Raid” is a documentary film that explores the devastating effects of the May 2008 immigration raid at the kosher meatpacking plant Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that Guatemala is very close to my heart and watching the footage in the trailer below is all-too familiar for me.

The documentary, which I definitely want to see, will be premiering at the Morelia International Film Festival, in Mexico between Oct. 3 and Oct. 11. This is the type of film that can change hearts and minds about the issue of immigration. Most people in this country view the issue as purely domestic – they can only see our side of the border. I cannot stress enough how important the international perspective is in this debate.

One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Guatemala was that decisions we make here, policy we put into action and priorities we create for our country, are felt in a very real and direct way in countries like Guatemala. We are not separate, but interconnected. And the sooner we realize this and take responsibility for our part in this global community, the better.

For more on the documentary, visit IntheShadowoftheRaid.com

Today Marks One Year since Postville

red ribbon

Today, people across the country are holding vigils, ringing bells, calling their Congressman and donning red ribbons in remembrance of the May 12th, 2008 ICE raid in Postville, Iowa.

I had big plans to write a long post about the raid, one year ago today, in Postville. I was new to the immigration debate at the time, and spent much of my first months as a pro-migrant blogger keeping up with the developments of the Postville aftermath. I interviewed people on the ground, wrote case studies on rapid response, attended a House Judiciary Hearing on raids and blogged about all of the outrageous injustices that came to light after the fact. However, as I sat down to write this morning, I realized that I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.

From the NY Times last August:

The harsh prosecution at Postville is an odd and cruel shift for the Bush administration, which for years had voiced compassion for exploited workers and insisted that immigration had to be fixed comprehensively or not at all.

Now it has abandoned mercy and proportionality. It has devised new and harsher traps, as in Postville, to prosecute the weak and the poor. It has increased the fear and desperation of workers who are irresistible to bottom-feeding businesses precisely because they are fearful and desperate. By treating illegal low-wage workers as a de facto criminal class, the government is trying to inflate the menace they pose to a level that justifies its rabid efforts to capture and punish them. That is a fraudulent exercise, and a national disgrace.

When I read those last lines, I realized how far away I feel from that moment. So much has changed since then – our President, our allies and the tone of the debate itself. I feel much more hopeful about the direction we are moving. There are certainly things that I would change about the current approach – i.e. the massive amount of funding that just went to border and interior enforcement or the court system that allowed an all-white jury to acquit three teenagers of a brutal, racially motivated murder.

But, today, in remembrance of Postville and the families, lives and communities desroyed a year ago, I’m choosing to feel optimistic. I’m choosing to believe that we have too much momentum and too much strength to not win change this year.  So much has changed, but for the people of Postville, even more has changed. The town still suffers and some of the immigrants arrested that day are still caught in the limbo of the broken system. So today, in solidarity with Postville, I’m choosing to ACT in the belief that it is up to us to create the change we want. You can too.

  1. Call your Representative or Congressman and tell them that you support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
  2. Attend a Remembrance Vigil in your area – for a map of vigils click here.
  3. Don a Red Ribbon in solidarity with the Postville community.

UPDATE: The Guatemala – Postville Connection

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.

guatemala

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.

Continue reading

UPDATE Postville: Agriprocessor CEO Indicted

Yesterday, authorities arrested Sholom Rubashkin, CEO of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant that was raided on May 12th of this year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

From the Iowa Independent:

The criminal complaint is the first against any high-level member of Agriprocessors management and comes in the wake of a massive May 12 immigration raid at the plant. In all, 389 workers — nearly half the plant’s workforce — were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Raids at What Cost?

Its not as though we need more reasons to condemn the immigration raids that have been tearing apart communities, denying due process and separating families. But, Frank Sharry has written a very enlightening article at the Huffington Post about the financial costs of the raids.

Remember the immigration raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, back in May? According to today’s Des Moines Register, the raid set taxpayers back $5.2 million. According to the newspaper, “That means it has cost taxpayers an average of $13,396 for each of the 389 illegal immigrants taken into custody.”

Keep in mind that the $5.2 million – disclosed through a Freedom of Information Act request with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ‑ is only what ICE spent. That doesn’t include the cost of criminal trials against the workers charged with ID crimes, indigent defense, and prison. According to an accompanying editorial in the Des Moines Register, “Prison costs alone ran $590,000 a month as of mid-summer.”

So let’s do the math, shall we? If it cost $13,396 to arrest each undocumented worker in the United States, and estimates are that there are at least 11.5 million people who fit that definition, then you, I, and the rest of American taxpayers could be looking at forking over $154 billion to ICE alone.

How much more of this are we going to have to endure? Without Just and Humane immigration reform, our government will not only continue its militant tactics against immigrants, but it will continue to fund its terror with our taxpayer money. And at this point in our history, we can afford either of the two.

Agriprocessors Fights Unionization

Apparently, not only are the owners of Agriprocessors facing child labor violation charges, stemming from May’s workplace raid in Postville, Iowa, but they are also fighting to take away the right of undocumented workers to join labor unions.

The Associated Press reports:

Agriprocessors Inc. has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to urge the justices to reconsider their long-held position that workers in the country illegally have a right to join labor unions.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether to take the case, but if it does, it could have ramifications for a complicated area of U.S. labor law.

This is unsurprising, given that the raid on their Postville plant happened in the midst of workers attempts to unionize themselves to demand better standards.

A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Scott Frotman, said the company’s only interest is preventing its workers from organizing and demanding better pay.

“This is another example of how this company uses a broken immigration system to drive down wages and working conditions at its facilities,” Frotman said.

Agriprocessors made headlines in May when 400 of its workers were detained during a raid on its slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.

On Tuesday, Agriprocessors owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, his son Sholom Rubashkin and other managers at the company were charged with hiring minors to work at the Iowa slaughterhouse, including some children younger than 16 who handled saws and meat grinders.

Though misdemeanors, they were the first criminal charges brought against the plant operators and could carry jail time. The company denied the allegations.

After the charges were filed, the Orthodox Union, one of the largest kosher certifiers in the country, said it would suspend kosher supervision of the plant unless the company hires a new chief executive officer within “several weeks.”

Labor groups have long argued that if workplace protections weren’t extended to illegal immigrants, a company could feel free to ignore labor standards with impunity and retaliate against any employees who complained.

UPDATE: Crime Rate up in Postville since May’s Raid

As kyledb at Citzen Orange reported earlier today, the AP is reporting that the crime rate has risen in Postville, Iowa since May.

POSTVILLE, Iowa – Postville’s police chief says he’s trying to add another officer to his staff as crime has risen in the city after an Immigration raid in May.

The Agriprocessors meatpacking plant was raided May 12, when 389 people were charged with being in the country illegally. Most were also charged criminally.

Postville Police Chief Michael Halse says the workers who have come to replace those picked up in the raid are temporary. He says he doesn’t know their backgrounds or where they came from.

Halse says he hopes life will return to the way it was before the raid, but predicted that normalcy could be years away.

So, let me get this straight. The Department of Homeland Security (through Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agents) spent tons of taxpayer money in order to arrest these “criminals” that were working insanely hard shifts at a meat-packing plant in order to feed their families. And since these “criminals” were apprehended and carted off to jails or sent back to their home countries, the crime rate has risen.

Interesting. I think their might be a slight flaw in the logic ICE used to justify this raid. What do you think?

Way to go ICE.

UPDATE: Postville Plant Won’t Learn its Lesson

NPR reports that:

Since an Iowa meatpacking plant lost workers in an immigration raid, native-born workers and Somali refugees have moved in to take their place. But some have been dismayed at the living conditions, or put off by the work, and a few have already left.

Listen to the full story here.

Looks like those in charge at Agriprocessors are refusing to learn from their mistakes. How else can you explain the continued poor working conditions while the plant is still under Federal investigation?

Mr. President, Stop your Raids on our Communities

Last month, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus visited Postville, Iowa to investigate the effects of the immigration raid that occurred in May. Luis Gutierrez (D – Ill.) announced his plans to visit the small town during the House sub-committee hearing that I covered a few weeks ago.

Now, after the visit, Gutierrez and Joe Baca (D – Calif.) have written an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, publicly calling on President Bush to stop the ICE raids across the country.

The op-ed is powerful proof that even elected officials understand ICE raids are not only inhumane and unjust, but that they are being used as a political tool, to gain points with the nativist constituency, rather than a real solution to fix our immigration system.

You should read the full piece, but here is a noteworthy excerpt:

There is no other reasonable response than to demand that Bush remember his words of welcome and his commitment to law, by placing a moratorium on Immigration raids until we have passed effective, comprehensive reform. The nation that we love, respect and serve is better than this. Bush stood before the American people and proclaimed:

“An Immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all.”

But headline-grabbing tactics like the Postville raid had nothing to do with comprehensive reform. Bush has forgotten his promise.

No one benefits when taxpayers pay $590,000 a month to jail Postville’s detainees. As a society, we fail when our factories are less safe, when the perpetrators go uncharged or when our laws remove infants from nursing mothers and create broken homes for U.S. citizen children.

We can all agree that we need Immigration reform that is tough on enforcement. However, any system which fails to respect the enormous contributions immigrants make to our workforce, that fails to reflect our proud history of welcoming those who seek a better life and that fails to protect all U.S. workers and our homeland, fails the American people.

The Postville raid failed our nation on all three of those levels. Any future raid would be equally and profoundly inexcusable and cause yet another avoidable blight on our history.

Update: A Small Victory in Postville

It looks as though a bit of justice, however small, will finally be served in Postville. The many allegations of child labor violations against Agriprocessors have been confirmed by the Iowa Labor Comission. Hopefully the owners of the plant will be fully prosecuted for these crimes against innocent children.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Labor officials said Tuesday that they had uncovered dozens of child labor violations at the nation’s biggest supplier of kosher meat.

The Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office said an investigation, which spanned several months, uncovered 57 cases of child labor law violations at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, where nearly 400 workers were arrested this spring in the largest Immigration enforcement operation in U.S. history.

The types of violations included minors working in prohibited occupations, exceeding allowable hours for youth to work, failure to obtain work permits, exposure to hazardous chemicals and working with prohibited tools. Under Iowa law, it is illegal for children under the age of 18 to work in meatpacking plants.

“The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa’s child labor laws,” Dave Neil, Iowa Labor Commissioner, said in a statement. “It is my recommendation that the attorney general’s office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law.”

The child labor violations would normally be turned over to the county attorney’s office, but in this case will most likely be handed over the Iowa attorney general at the county’s request, labor officials said.