Thursday, May 15, 2008

Border issues in the heartland

Although odd to begin a blog with a guest poster, the voice of this schoolteacher from Postville, IA--a town close to my usual stomping grounds--deserves the space. Blogging is about first person reports, after all.

From a teacher at Postville, IA:
Yesterday, our town was raided by 400 FBI agents, ICE agents (formally known as INS), state troopers, and a variety of other agencies. We had helicopters flying overhead for hours, all roads were blocked coming into and going out of Postville, media crews and cameras EVERYWHERE, and basically mass chaos. The federal government had decided to make Postville an example for the rest of the nation to see our supposedly working Homeland Security.

Ironically, as this all transpired, I was at the county courthouse with my Government class, so that they could see first hand how our judicial system works. We got more of a lesson then we were bargaining for. I received calls from the school not to come back to school because I have students they were concerned about. (Yes, they are undocumented students who have been in this district since they were in fourth grade. They speak English clearly, their parents work here in town and pay taxes, have tried to file papers to become legal, but have been denied due to the fact that they do not come from a 'desirable' country.)

I am told after a few hours that I can come back on the school bus, but to expect to be pulled over by the FBI, and I am not to, under any circumstances, let any officer onto the bus. I now have 12 students who are scared as to what will happen, with four students that could possibly be arrested. Basically, I had 20 minutes to get my wits about me and be ready to face ICE or the FBI and tell them to take a hike. Under federal laws, schools and churches are considered sanctuaries, and people can go to them for political refugee. (Think of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.) Although this did nothing to calm my nerves, as I am afraid that I might also be arrested for not cooperating with the law.

We made it back into Postville, only to find that our school is now surrounded by media cameras. I will not make a comment about the news media...I have not much good to say about them at this point. I get to my classroom, to find out that our entire computer network crashed at 10 am (the same time ICE came to Postville). It also has been running off and on today, with an entire computer tech team unable to find out what is wrong. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe our accounts are being scanned. (Big Brother)

After school, all teachers and staff are told to report to the theater. We have 150 students with no parents to go home to. We are told that we need to stay with them until we find out where their parents are at or a relative that will care for them until their parents are found. Many of these kids lost both parents due to the raid and the parents are now sitting in jail in Waterloo, or in the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds until they are deported. I guess, I don't really care how any of you feel about immigration, we all have our opinions. But I will say, that as a human being and as a parent, I find it disturbing to see little elementary kids crying for their parents and asking you to take them home, and all one can say is, I am sorry, or we are looking for them. By the way, we got no information from ICE as to who they arrested, and whether or not, their parents were being detained. At this point, I just wanted to go home and hug my own kids.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to locate family members, having students 'hide' their personal belongings in classrooms, barns, houses, or where ever, and ward off the media. From what I have heard, we were all over the Midwest news channels and newspapers, with CNN and FOX news also doing stories on us. I think we are on the national news tonight. It was announced that Postville's raid was the largest immigration raid in US History.

Today, I am missing about half of my students. Some have taken off for Chicago, others are hiding in town, some were arrested, and others are at the Catholic Church. I spent the morning helping in the church with food preparation (there are 400 people seeking refugee in the church right now), and also trying to locate items like diapers, food, pillows, blankets, and games for the little kids to play with. From media reports, about 350 people were arrested, with 697 more possible arrests, most of them Guatemalan (not Mexican). Only 57 have been released due to child care or medical reasons. They are currently back with ankle monitors on. Most will be deported.

The town has literally 'shut down'. Businesses are closed, the school is about half empty, and we are now left wondering if we will all have jobs next year. This town was a ghost town 15 years ago, but has managed to build itself back up on the backs of our immigrant workers. I have complained many times about the language barriers I encountered at school, but I have always said that the reason I had a job was because we were the only district that actually was growing and able to keep their staff due to the sheer number of students in the school district. By me working in the Postville School District, I am eligible to have half of my student loans forgiven over a five year time period. I only have one more year left to complete this goal. If we lose half of our students, this will not happen.

What frustrates me the most is that this raid accomplished nothing positive. It has destroyed families, will more than likely close some area businesses, some of us will lose our jobs, and the real estate in the area became worthless overnight. All this in an already struggling economy. I know that I am complaining in this email and it has become a lengthy email too, but everyone who complains about the immigrants 'taking American jobs' don't even want these jobs. Honestly, who wants to work for minimum wage, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week with no overtime, in cold, smelly conditions, gutting chickens or cows? I know that I don't want to do that for a living.

Interestingly enough, my US History students made a direct correlation between what we all witnessed yesterday to our history lesson three weeks ago. We have been studying W.W.II and the Holocaust. I had them view the movie 'Schindler's List' and the things that happened in the movie, with the Nazis rounding up the Jews, having them report their names and families' names, transporting them to unknown places, keeping them in substandard holding areas, and then getting rid of them, was very much like what happened yesterday, with one exception, the US has not practiced the use of genocide.

ICE is today, doing house to house searches of every home and apartment that has a Hispanic name attached to it. It is rather scary to see search teams go from place to place, looking for immigrants. We had agencies at the school a month ago with a subpoena to seize all student and employee files. Any name that sounded remotely Hispanic was flagged. I find this to be a form of racial profiling, and I know that it is happening, because I was already asked three weeks ago to bring in a copy of my birth certificate due to the fact that my maiden name was 'Hispanic' sounding. (de Julio)

How quickly we forget our own histories. Many of our ancestors came here with nothing to their names and very little to survive on. They wanted a fresh start too. Unless they are 100% Native American, your ancestors were also immigrants. So why are we trying to make an example out of those less fortunate? Why not go after the people who really are doing something illegal and wrong? Like drug dealers or child molesters? If we spent as much money on those items as we are currently spending on the War in Iraq (which we are loosing) or building a 700 mile long wall on the Mexican border which is actually 2300 miles long, we would maybe in a better economy that was safe for our families.

Proud not to have voted for George W. Bush in either election,
(name withheld)

Since I can't verify the teacher's name, I realize this post may be viewed as spurious. I have a pretty good sh*t detector, and it didn't go off when I read the letter. You can make your own determination.


dada said...

Holy Jesus! (Welcome B.E., BTW) When you "kick off" a new blog, you do it with total disregard for what inevitably must follow--more blog entries--and I don't see how you'll top this one anytime soon.

You coulda started with a nice Mother's Day blog but, on no, you threw us a hand grenade (sans pin) and, personally, I'm diving for cover because this post really exploded over my head, reinforcing my deepest suspicions, i.e., we're in a war and the terrorists aren't who we think they are!

Thanks so much for this excellent, excellent posting. This didn't really happen, did it? This couldn't happen here -- this is "America!"

(Oh, and did I say "Welcome!"? This has the promise of being a very powerful venue for controversy and stimulating ideas. Is that why you and Mr. BE travel everywhere by car? Because flying's impossible because of the lists you're on? Keep it up 'cause I get the feeling I'm gonna get to know the REAL B.E. on these pages!)

eProf2 said...

Hi BE. Nice guest post. While the connection to the holocaust is a stretch, I would recommend the students study the internment of Japanese Americans to see how easy it is for governments, including our own, can round up an entire group of folks for having committed the sin of being born of Japanese ancestors.

This is a great start to your blog.

Fran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fran said...

Thought I'd come by & visit your new blog. We had a similar raid of a chicken processing plant in Oreogn a few years ago. They just took people off to jail in the middle of the work day. Their kids were left to fend for themselves.
Locals pitched a fit & demanded they at least be allowed to make sure their families- especially kids were taken care of.
What a scene that sounded like!

Border Explorer said...

Dada, I'm ever grateful for your support and encouragement. But honestly, I can't take much (any) credit for this posting; I just passed along something I had received. The narrative rocked me, too.

eProf: The analogy to Japanese internment camps is indeed close. However, I found the reference to the Holocaust not too off-target. Recently I toured through a Holocaust museum and was struck over and over by analogies between Nazi Germany's Holocaust campaign and the current atmosphere in the U.S. against immigrants. Interesting, I thought, that the kids came up with the same observation.

Fran: Thanks for your visit and your comments. Yes, the week before Christmas 2006, Iowa sustained a similar immigration raid--same story: stranded kids, etc. Local people were outraged. I actually thought ICE would manifest a positive learning curve. Wrong again. Same song, just another lame verse.