Tag Archives: postville iowa

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

The Postville Raid: A Tale of Two Villages

The village of San Miguel Acatan, in northwest Guatemala

The village of San Miguel Acatan, in northwest Guatemala

If you haven’t already, you should check out Frontline PBS’s latest look at the impact of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid on workers from two Guatemalan villages. Watch the video here.

Guatemala is close to my heart. For two years, I worked with communities in the highlands of the Cuchamatanes mountains in northwest Guatemala. These communities, impacted by globalization, a decades-long civil war and the slow deterioration of an older way of life, are extremely transient. It was rare to meet a family without at least one (usually more) person in el norte. While I work daily to push for comprehensive immigration reform here in the United States, it is never far from my mind that there are much bigger global structures that must be re-examined if we are to combat the gaping inequities created by these structures – a task so big it makes my head spin.

For now, make sure to check out the video at Frontline. It makes my heart ache and it makes me want to go back to Guatemala, just to visit and to listen.

Postville One Year Later: A Day of Remembrance and Action

Tomorrow, May 12th, marks the one year anniversary of the devastating ICE raid at Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. That day, hundreds of ICE agents descended on the small Iowa town. They brought helicopters, they brought buses and they brought a show of force that would rival any big-budget action flick this summer. Almost 400 workers were arrested and herded like cattle through a “fast-track” version of the American judicial system.

At the time, it was the largest workplace raid in history – sort of mind-blowing to think that since then the raid in Laurel, Mississippi has actually surpassed that number with over 600 people arrested. Postville quickly became symbolic of everything that was wrong with our country’s approach to immigration enforcement, immigration policy, human rights and civil rights. Families were separated, an entire community was destroyed and a small church, St. Bridget’s, was left to deal with the aftermath.

I didn’t come on board at FIRM until one week after the Postville raid, so I couldn’t tell you where I was when I heard the news. But, I can tell you this: witnessing the injustice of the Postville raid cemented my identity as a pro-migrant advocate. Period.

There will be a National Day of Remembrance and Action happening tomorrow. Across the country, communities will hold days of remembrance, will ring bells at 10 AM (the time the raid began) and will don red ribbons in solidarity with the Postville community.

For more information, and to find an action near you, visit the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

Supreme Court Rejects Use of ID Theft Charges Against Undocumented Immigrants

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Last May, in Postville, Iowa, nearly 300 undocumented workers were rounded up SWAT-style and shuffled through a joke of a justice system. Many of the immigrants were threatened with a two year prison term for “aggravated Identity Theft” or told they could plead guilty to a lesser charge and face a term of 5 months and then be deported.

At the time, I wrote about the injustice of the “aggravated identity theft” threat – seeing as how the majority of the immigrants facing charges had absolutely no idea that the numbers they were using to work long hours in terrible conditions belonged to actual people.

A legal interpreter who stepped forward after the Postville case told the New York Times later that:

He suggested many of the immigrants could not have knowingly committed the crimes in their pleas. “Most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security card was or what purpose it served,” he wrote.

He said many immigrants could not distinguish between a Social Security card and a residence visa, known as a green card. They said they had purchased fake documents from smugglers in Postville, or obtained them directly from supervisors at the Agriprocessors plant. Most did not know that the original cards could belong to Americans and legal immigrants.

Well, on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of justice and declared that the use of Aggravated Identity Theft in cases against undocumented immigrants is not lawful.

“The court’s ruling preserves basic ideals of fairness for some of our society’s most vulnerable workers,” said Chuck Roth, litigation director at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. “An immigrant who uses a false Social Security number to get a job doesn’t intend to harm anyone, and it makes no sense to spend our tax dollars to imprison them for two years.”

This step towards preserving due process and fairness is too little too late for the immigrants rounded up in Postville, or the hundreds of raids conducted under the enforcement-only Bush era. Let’s hope this step is accompanied later this year by comprehensive reform of our immigration system. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that even fixing small wrongs, like this ruling has done, will not fix the overall system. We need reform.

State and Local Round-up

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NATIONAL: Obama, Congress to Revisit Program on Security Standards for Driver’s Licenses Congress and the Obama administration are considering ceding key ground in a long-running battle between the federal government and the states over Real ID, the four-year-old federal program that requires all states to start issuing more secure driver’s licenses by the end of the year.

NJ: Morristown Residents Attend Immigration Rally Where Sen. Menendez Says 287(g) Won’t Be Necessary – Comprehensive immigration reform will “ultimately nullify the need for a 287(g),” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said Saturday at a press conference following a Familias Unidas rally at the Iglesia Jesucristo Es El Senor church in Elizabeth.

SC: Immigration Rules May Lack Funds – The director of the state agency responsible for enforcing South Carolina’s mammoth new immigration law says her department doesn’t have the money needed to fully enforce it.

CA: Immigration: Rep. Hunter Introduces Border Bill – A group of Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress on Thursday they say would strengthen border security and increase penalties for gun smuggling.

IA: 2 Iowa Towns, 2 Perspectives On Immigration Raids – For immigrant advocates, the raid on a meatpacking plant in Postville last May was evidence of all that is wrong with large-scale arrests of illegal workers.

ACTION: Day of Remembrance for Postville

Below is an action being organized by St. Bridget’s Church, the first responders on the frontlines of the raid in Postville, Iowa. Its hard to believe that we are approaching the one year anniversary of that day.

I remember listening to Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget’s speak out about the destruction brought by the raid. It seems only fitting that she is organizing this action to remember the event and to call for an end to the raids.

A Call for Nationwide Awareness and Commemoration

of the Postville, Iowa Immigration Raid

May 12, 2009

Tuesday, May 12 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on Postville, Iowa.

To stand in solidarity with the 389 people who were detained and their families, a nationwide day of remembrance has been declared to promote awareness of the devastating effects of raids.

The prayer vigil and walk to commemorate the event will be held as follows:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

3:30 p.m. – Gather at St. Bridget’s Church, 141 W Williams St, Postville, Iowa

4:00 p.m. – Prayer Vigil and Remembrance

5:00 p.m. – Solidarity Walk to Agriprocessors

The event is a unified call for comprehensive immigration reform, just labor practices, family unity and an end to raids.

Invitations will be sent throughout the country to political and faith leaders, social justice advocacy groups, and all who offered assistance to those affected by the raid, requesting their presence in body or spirit on the day of the event.

On this nationwide day of remembrance and solidarity,

  1. We urge faith communities of all denominations to sound a call for justice, e.g., ringing of church bells or blowing of the shofar at 10:00 a.m., the time the raid began.
  2. Text of the prayer vigil and remembrance will be available for adaptation for local use after April 15 at www.postvillestbridget.org.
  3. Individuals and towns are encouraged to don red ribbons as in Postville on the day of the raid.

Media Contact: Sister Mary McCauley, BVM

Email: mmccauley@bvmcong.org

Phone: 563.581.6877

Prayer Vigil text available after April 15 at www.postvillestbridget.org

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.

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.

Postville UPDATE: Agriprocessor’s Owner Charged with Child Labor Violations

Yesterday, the owner and managers of Agriprocessors meatpacking plant were slapped with over 9,000 misdemeanors for child labor violations. As you all know, the plant was the target of a massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in May of this year.

The AP reports:

The owner and managers of the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant were charged Tuesday with more than 9,000 misdemeanors alleging they hired minors and had children younger than 16 handle dangerous equipment such as circular saws and meat grinders.

Two employees were also charged in federal court. The state and federal charges are the first against operators of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, where nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers were arrested in May in one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history.

The complaint filed by the Iowa attorney general’s office said the violations involved 32 illegal-immigrant children under age 18, including seven who were younger than 16. Aside from handling dangerous equipment, the complaint says children were exposed to dangerous chemicals such as chlorine solutions and dry ice.

So it seems like the government is finally going after the leaders of the company and not just punishing the hard-working employees. It looks like the plant, which is a kosher meatpacking plant, may face reprecussions in other areas. The Iowa Gazette reports:

Agriprocessors is the leading supplier of kosher beef, which meets the religious dietary requirements of Jewish consumers. Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union, a leading kosher certification organization, told The Gazette the union will suspend its certification of Agriprocessors’ products within a few weeks because of the charges unless the company appoints a new chief executive officer.

It looks like things won’t be going back to normal in Postville anytime soon. As I reported earlier this week, the crime rate has gone up since the May raid and residents are still feeling uneasy about the future.

Postville resident Dave Hartley, 50, said it was troubling that the allegations would put the town back in the spotlight.

“You want things to get back to normal,” Hartley said. “I wouldn’t say it’s turmoil in town, per se, but people are just wondering what’s going to happen.”

For more on this story, listen to the NPR report from Jennifer Ludden.