Tag Archives: Iowa

Postville Raid – A Five Year Commemoration

Around 10:00 on a clear May morning in 2008, two black helicopters circled over Postville, Iowa, a torn of two square miles and fewer than 3,000 residents.  Then a line of S.U.V.’s drove past Postville’s main street and its worn brick storefronts.  More than 10 white buses with darkened windows and the words “Homeland Security” on their sides were on their way to the other side of town.  Postville’s four-man police force had no forewarning of what was about to happen.  Neither did the mayor.Maggie Jones, “Postville, Iowa, Is Up for Grabs,”  New York Times, July 15, 2012

Five years ago, on May 8, 2008, officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) conducted an immigration raid on workers and their families in the quiet torn of Postville, Iowa.  This was the largest single site immigration raid at the time in the history of this nation.  Though the horror of the raid may have faded from the headlines, the reality remains.  Those most involved in that tragic event want the nation to remember, to reconcile, and to take action on immigration reform.

The basics:  Officials raided Agriprocessors, the main producer of kosher meat in the U.S., handcuffed immigrants and bused them to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo.  The raid involved I.C.E. officials and officers of other federal, state and local government agencies.  The majority of the detainees were charged with identity theft and sent to prisons across the country.  For five months they were incarcerated before being deported.  The town lost a large portion of its population.  Far worse, families were separated, children’s lives were permanently disrupted, a community grieved.

Community leaders, in particular members of the faith community, responded with alacrity and deep concern for the welfare of their neighbors.  Activists from around the nation gathered to protest the action of I.C.E. and to support the residents of Postville, especially the families torn apart by the actions of agents of the government.

Much has been written and recorded about the Postville Raid .  One readily accessible and helpful summary is the New York Times article by Maggie Jones cited above. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/magazine/postville

The article offers a cogent synopsis of a tragic story that continues.  Another essential resource is the documentary film Abused (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1737082/) which has been widely distributed and frequently viewed and discussed by local groups.

Those who best know the story are sponsoring a five-year commemoration of the Postville Raid on Friday, May 10, in Cedar Rapids.  The purpose is to remember the 389 people who were arrested on May 12, 2008, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices, and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies.  Planners have provided background and current information on the web.  The commemoration is organized by a broad coalition of victims and those involved in helping Postville cope with the aftermath of the Raid – individuals and family members who were immediately affected, church and synagogue representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, attorneys who saw and acted on the injustice, neighbors and concerned others from Postville and surrounding communities.

Visit http://lirs.org/Postville.anniversary to view a video that will remind you of the tragic day.  Fearing the return of I.C.E. agents hundreds of immigrants gathered at St. Bridgets Catholic Church in Postville for any word on their missing family members.

Planners of the  Postville Raid  commemoration invite other communities to take time to recall, reflect and continue the struggle for immigration reform.  For more information about resources for organizing community events contact Rockne Cole, rocknecole@gmail (319 358 1900).   In the Twin Cities area members of Jewish Community Action are making plans to bus Twin Citians to Postville for the commemoration.  For more information contact the Jewish Action Council. (651 632 2184)

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abUSed in Postville

A dear friend and colleague who lives in Decorah drives very frequently to Postville where she teaches English to immigrant workers and their families.  Her experience with the plight of the immigrant community is close up and personal.  She was totally engaged  when ICE raided the town in 2008.

So I heeded her word when she recommended I might better understand if I were to take a few minutes to watch a brief online introduction to abUSed: The Postville Raid.  The snippet itself is a gripping harbinger of  a full-length documentary that is about to premiere in Postville and Decorah.  Hers was good advice which I pass on to all who are concerned about social justice and what transpired in our neighbor community.

The filmmaker, Luis Argueta, is in Decorah and Postville next week, sharing his experience producing the record of this terrible event in the life of a small Midwestern city.  The press release delivers the message in words – the video goes beyond mere words:

abUSed: The Postville Raid tells the gripping personal tale of the individuals, the families and the town that survived the most brutal, most expensive and largest immigration raid in the history of the United States.  The film is not just about immigration, but about the rule of law, constitutional rights, workers rights, and due process.  Presenting the voices national experts and average individuals – many of them our neighbors in these communities – this film invites our reflection and response to one of the most significant historical events in our region.

In producing the film, Argueta’s intent was “to create a new narrative about immigrants and the political, economic and social forces behind our broken immigration system.  This narrative presents immigrants not as ‘those people’ but as ourselves; not as an enemy to be feared but as a helpful neighbor to be welcomed.  At the same time this narrative exposes the socio-economic and political forces that surround immigration.”  He believes that “by looking with compassion into the human face of immigration we will regain some of our own humanity.  By examining existing government policies, we will be fulfilling our role as citizens of a democracy.”

I have viewed abUSed three times now – for starts.  It is gripping.  Though I would love to be in the audience to interact with Luis Argueta, the experience of watching the film alone gives me pause to look within myself, reflection that lends itself to private viewing in front of a stark monitor that spends most of its time with far more prosaic communication.  And not having to drive to Postville or even Decorah in the Wicked Winter of 2011 makes me appreciate the wonders of web access to this video gem.