Tag Archives: postville raid

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

Raid Victims Awarded Visas

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Two days after the one-year anniversary of the Postville raid, 20 workers were awarded work visas under a law that protects crime victims. From the Des Moines Register:

“A government entity has found, indeed, that these women and children have been subjected to extreme emotional or physical harm by Agriprocessors,” Parras-Konrad said. “These people have been exploited, have been assaulted, have been humiliated, have been verbally and emotionally abused by this employer.”

The fact that at least 20 people were eligible to for relief in these cases clearly demonstrates that there were many others who should have seen their day in court and who were, instead, pressured into pleading guilty and promptly deported. Let’s hope the new ID theft decision and these visas mark a change in policy.

Today Marks One Year since Postville

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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.

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.

A Year Without a Mexican: A Postville Retrospective

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the devastating Postville raid, Marcelo Balve writes a poignant and insightful retrospective on the past year and the current state of immigration policy in our country at Mother Jones.

Indeed, the 389 arrests eliminated more than one-third of the meatpacker’s workforce and nearly one-fifth of the town’s population. It also prompted an exodus of hundreds more Hispanic residents who were either afraid of being targeted or simply opted to escape the town’s inevitable tailspin. Postville’s businesses began to suffer almost immediately. Even the Wal-Mart in Decorah, a half-hour away, called Postville mayor Robert Penrod with concerns about the economic impact. Penrod, who stepped down as mayor this month, can recall an eerie calm settling over the town, as though it were part of some Twilight Zone episode. “Before, it was all hustle bustle, and you’d see people walking up and down the streets and driving and listening to music,” he told me. “Then all of a sudden, boom! I mean nobody was walking the streets.”

Harder to quantify, but no less real, was the damage to an unusual multicultural experiment in America’s heartland. It had begun back in 1987 when ultra-Orthodox Jews came to Postville to turn the defunct Hygrade plant into the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker, which promptly became a beacon for immigrant labor. Postville proudly dubbed itself “Hometown to the World,” and despite the company’s recent attempts to recruit legal replacement workers from as far away as Palau, the motto has acquired an ironic ring. Ten months after the raid, the meatpacker, having declared bankruptcy, was operating at half-steam with a ragtag assembly of workers, and the town’s economy remains a shambles. Back in October, Mayor Penrod told CNN that Postville was living a “freaky nightmare.” And it still isn’t over.

You absolutely must read the entire piece – I promise it is worth fifteen minutes of your time. Postville has become the symbol for just how destructive and costly immigration raids can be – not just for the undocumented immigrants ICE targets, but for entire communities and even regions.

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.

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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

VIDEO: Peaceful Protest in Postville

You guys like my alliteration skills? 🙂

Here is a video from the rally in Postville on Sunday.

Committee Hearing on Immigration (Part 1)

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss the increasingly frequent immigration and customs raids – specifically the largest raid in history, which occurred in Postville, Iowa this past May.

Committee members heard from a number of panels and the hearing lasted virtually all day. I attended the first half of the hearing, which was standing room only; a testament to the high interest in the immigration debate, that seems to be approaching a critical mass.

The committee hearing was spurred by the tell-all report, released by Dr. Erik Camayd-Frexais earlier this month and featured in a recent front-page NY Times article. Dr. Camayd-Frexais, a federally contracted interpreter with years of experience, denounced the “fast-tracking” of the legal proceedings following the raid, the excessive use of force by ICE agents and the denial of the “bill of rights and democractic values threatened by the breakdown of checks and balances”.

Representatives from the Department of Justice defended the legal process following the raids, stating that the choice to “fast-track” detainees was somehow a humanitarian show of compassion.

Committee member Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) strongly disagreed with this version of the Postville legal proceedings. He pointed out, various times, that immigrants, many of whom did not understand the charges against them, were pressured and intimidated into signing plea agreements, without adequate legal counsel.

Representatives from other districts across the country testified to the effects of the SWAT team style raids on their communities.

Especially poignant was Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (CA) describing the traumatic affects the raids in San Rafael, CA had on the children in the community. Teachers rode buses home with students, to ensure they didn’t go home to empty houses. Hundreds of children missed school for weeks at a time. She told the story of one small child, who was instructed by her mother to pack a backpack of essentials to leave by the front door of the house at all times and was told if she came home and nobody was there, she should take the backpack and go to her aunt’s house. “Can you imagine?” asked Woolsey, “Can you imagine what that small child must have felt?”

Despite the passionate testimony of various panelists, many committee members seemed un-moved on their position that undocumented workers are “illegal aliens” who are “displacing Americans” who might otherwise be employed in the same positions the immigrants occupy.

Specifically telling was the minority committee members’ insistence that undocumented immigrants were taking the jobs of “African American males ages 18 to 35”. This statistic, rattled off various times, seemed so disconnected from the reality of what’s happening in our country that I became angrier each time it was spoken out loud.

Do I think these Representatives actually care of the communities of people of color? The honest answer is no. I think they care about somehow supporting their “enforcement only” policy in order to continue with what they see as “legal” law enforcement efforts. Meanwhile, families continue to be torn assunder, communities devastated and children abandoned.

As Gutierrez (IL) pointed out, undocumented immigrants, unlike the big businesses that continue to employ them, have no power, they have no Political Action Committees or well-paid lobbyists who can influence lawmakers. So working people, people who are struggling to survive, continue to be raided, arrested and shuffled through our “justice” system, so that our administration can tell people they are “doing something” about immigration.

The truth is, they are doing something that will be looked back upon with shame. They are doing something that contradicts the founding principles of liberty and justice for all.

VIDEO: Postville – There has to be a better way

With recent raids in Maryland, Rhode Island, Colorado, Texas and now Hawaii – we must all remind ourselves what these raids really mean for the communities they target.

It is easy to become de-sensitized by the numbers, the legal justifications and the ICE PR machine that continues to hide the inhumanity that is the real story of the raids.

Watch this video, from CBS, on the Postville aftermath. When you are done, watch it again.

Now, ask yourself, how does this uphold American values? Family values? Community values? I understand that many of you are concerned with the enforcement of the law, but is that law based in humanity, integrity and justice for all?

There has to be a better way.

Postville Update: Two Supervisors Arrested

Nearly two months after the biggest ICE raid in history, the first non rank-and-file workers were arrested at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa.

On the heels of many workplace abuse allegations, the arrests seem to be too little, too late. While the prosecution of higher ups in the company is an encouraging sign, it doesn’t really go far enough.

“The arrest of two low-level supervisors, while a start, barely scratches the surface of this company’s bad behavior,” said Scott Frotman, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has tried to organize the plant. “What about the allegations of worker abuse? Does anyone really believe that these low-level supervisors acted alone without the knowledge, or even the direction, of the Rubashkins and other senior management?”

It seems like this move, like the raid itself, is more symbolic than substantive.

Click here for the full NY Times article about the arrests.