Carrying red flowers representing the 389 workers arrested in a 2008 immigration raid on an Iowa plant, hundreds of people participate in a Walk for Justice and interfaith prayer service May 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The participants were commemorating t he fifth anniversary of the raid on the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, which continues to have an impact far beyond the small town in a rural corner of the Dubuque Archdiocese.
Catholic News Service
Carrying red flowers representing the 389 workers arrested during a 2008 immigration raid, hundreds commemorated the fifth anniversary of the immigration raid on the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa.
The raid continues to have an impact far beyond the small town in a rural corner of the Dubuque Archdiocese.
The Postville raid garnered international headlines in 2008. Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meat packing facility in the country at the time, had been operating since 1987 under the ownership of Aaron Rubashkin and his family. In the years leading up to the raid, the plant had been breaking health, safety and labor laws, a fact highlighted in the documentary “AbUSed.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released videos taken undercover, which show horrible conditions for employees and animals. In 2006, the business was fined $600,000 for pollution caused by releasing untreated slaughterhouse wastewater into the Postville sewer system.
Dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents executed a criminal search warrant, and collected evidence showing violations of child and other labor laws, safety rules infractions, sexual abuse of female workers, and document fraud. They took the arrested immigrants for mass processing at the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo. A majority pleaded guilty to identity theft, despite the fact that most did not understand the charges against them and were not, in many cases, given adequate access to lawyers.
Many served about five months in prison and were then deported to their home countries of Guatemala, Mexico, Israel and Ukraine. Many female workers were permitted to stay in Iowa to care for children, but were required to wear ankle monitoring bracelets and could not work for up to two years while waiting for a long judicial process to unfold.
Sister Mary McCauley, pastoral administrator at St. Bridget’s Parish during the Postville raid, was among those on the frontline in the immediate aftermath. The parish rectory became a hub of activity during that time.
“This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reach out to our government, to our employers who through greed and unscrupulous behavior took advantage of our undocumented workers, to our neighbors who fear the stranger, to our legislators who have been slow to re-write our broken and inhumane laws and to call for reconciliation and reform,” said Sister McCauley.
The plant was re-opened after being purchased by a new owner. Some workers from the time of the raid have returned, but many workers are refugees from Somalia.