photo caption: Protesters flocked to a pro-immigrant rally in Postville, IA in July 2008.
Regular readers here joined the national outrage over the immigration raid conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in tiny Postville, IA May 2008. Nearly 400 undocumented immigrant workers at Agriprocessors, a kosher meat packing plant, were arrested on criminal--not immigration--charges in what was until that point the largest ICE raid in U.S. history. What has happened since we last visited Postville (a month ago or so)?
* Its claim to fame as site of the largest-ever raid melted like an ice cone at the state fair. In late August U.S. immigration cops nabbed 595 workers in Laurel, MS. Iowa apparently was a training camp for even bigger projects on ICE's to-do list.
* PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, filed a federal complaint against Agriprocessors saying it violated the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (as caught on plant videotape.)
* In early September the Iowa attorney general on Tuesday brought an array of criminal charges for child labor violations against the owners and top managers of a meatpacking plant--over 9,000 charges! Human rights activists across the nation exalted.
Further, two Agriprocessors Inc. human resources employees named in state charges were arrested and charged additionally with document fraud and identity theft. In reaction, the Orthodox Union threatened to withdraw its kosher certification of the company within two weeks unless new management was hired.
* On the national scene, US Roman Catholic bishops in a formal statement condemned immigration raids on US workplaces, alleging they break up families and disrupt communities, without addressing the country's flawed immigration system.
* By 9/11 Agriprocessors recruited Pacific islanders from Palau to work at the meatpacking plant, in an effort to replace over half of the workforce lost in the raid. Meanwhile, the Postville police force hired additional help to fight the increase in crime since the raid. The Chief of Police speculated it may take years for the situation to normalize.
* Post-raid Postville looks like "an open-air prison" in which "good, decent" women and children without means of support but with "leg monitoring bracelets" rely on the community for survival. Local Catholic priest asks: "What kind of a government makes prisoners of 43 mothers who all have children and then says, 'You can't work, you can't leave and can't stay?' That boggles the imagination." The family breadwinners, meanwhile, are in "nine different prisons around the state," leaving the Postville community to support their families.
* By mid-September, a newly installed CEO promised that Agriprocessors would make fundamental changes.
* Questions arose on substandard housing in Postville since the raid. City officials are considering the unusual move of regulating rental properties in a small town. [Click the link for photos...if you're braced. Small town values, anyone?]
* This week the two human resources workers at Agriprocessors pleaded not guilty to federal charges they face on document fraud, identity theft and harboring undocumented aliens. Thus, a trial comes one step closer.
The soap opera which is Postville, IA continues to weave its tale of broken dreams, unscrupulous exploitation, and lives spinning out of control. Merely a month brings switchbacks and heartaches with a plot careening and lurching into a broken future.
Have mercy, indeed. Have mercy on them. Have mercy on us. We will continue to monitor the situation in Postville. How can we not?
Huge h/t to Letters and Papers from Postville for documenting events as they unfold.