The Immigration authorities, who barely can barely enforce illegal immigration most times, seemed to have found that one business that hired illegals as a major component of its entire workforce. But yet, the media and some townspeople feel that it was these illegals who were at fault and it was their town that will be harmed the most.
Monday's raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. It has upended this tree-lined community, which calls itself "Hometown to the World." Half of the school system's 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.
And once again, the catholic church stands in the way of this nations laws.
"I like my job. I like my work. I like it here in Iowa," said Escobedo, 38, an illegal immigrant from Yescas, Mexico, who has raised his three children for 11 years in Postville. "Are they mad because I'm working?"
"They don't go after employers. They don't put CEOs in jail," complained the Postville Community Schools superintendent, David Strudthoff, 51, who said the sudden incarceration of more than 10 percent of the town's population of 2,300 "is like a natural disaster -- only this one is manmade." He added, "In the end, it is the greater population that will suffer and the workforce that will be held accountable."
Archbishop Jerome Hanus’ presence drew several hundred people to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon, but a 4-year-old girl with black pigtails made the clearest point of the service.
The girl trotted up the aisle during an opening prayer, stood by the podium and held up a folded piece of paper. Lay minister Paul Rael reached down, unfolded the paper, then read it to the audience. “I have just been handed a very special petition from the little girl who just came up,” he said. She wanted people to pray “that her dad may return home.”
A few minutes later, as the service continued, Rael went to sit in the pews, where he used a white handkerchief to wipe tears from his eyes.
Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Postville, Iowa, are responding to the needs of people who have been affected by a May 12 federal immigration raid at a Postville meat processing plant. Hundreds of family members of those arrested have taken refuge inside St. Bridget's Catholic Church, Postville, said the Rev. Stephen P. Brackett, St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Church members and others in the community have stepped in to help family members who were affected, Brackett said. He estimated that as many as 30 members of St. Paul are helping out at St. Bridget's by providing food and clothing, tutoring students and reading to younger children. Several students from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, one of 28 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) colleges and universities, are also helping, he said.
For those arrested a significant need will be securing legal help, Brackett said. The cost of meeting with a lawyer is at least $150 per person, he said. No one is staying at St. Paul because most people affected are Roman Catholic and afraid to leave the church building for fear of arrest, Brackett explained.
But the pressure on employers -- whose wages and hiring practices have lured illegal workers to both large cities and small towns -- has mostly been indirect and economic: While workplace arrests have risen tenfold since 2002, from 510 to 4,940, only 90 criminal arrests have involved company personnel officials. So far, no officials at Agriprocessors have been charged
According to an affidavit filed by an ICE agent in conjunction with this week's arrests, 76 percent of the 968 employees on the company's payroll over the last three months of 2007 used false or suspect Social Security numbers. The affidavit cited unnamed sources who alleged that some company supervisors employed 15-year-olds, helped cash checks for workers with fake documents, and pressured workers without documents to purchase vehicles and register them in other names.
In addition, the affidavit alleged that company supervisors ignored a report of a methamphetamine drug lab operating in the plant. It also cited a case in which a supervisor blindfolded a Guatemalan worker and allegedly struck him with a meat hook, without serious injury.
ICE may be "deporting 390 witnesses" to the labor investigation, Mark Lauritsen, international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has waged a bitter battle to organize the Postville plant, said.
The blitz, which occurred after a 16-month investigation, began with helicopters, buses and vans encircling the western edge of town at 10 a.m. Witnesses said hundreds of agents surrounded the plant in 10 minutes, began interviewing workers and seized company records.
By early afternoon, illegal immigrants began arriving by bus at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo, Iowa, about 75 miles from Postville. ICE held 313 male suspects at an exhibit hall and 76 female suspects in local jails for administrative violations of immigration law.
Those arrested include 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, 2 Israelis and 4 Ukrainians, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Iowa.
Eighteen were juveniles who have been released or turned over for refugee resettlement, and the prosecutor's office would not say if there were underage workers at the plant. Of the adults, 306 face criminal charges for aggravated identity theft and other crimes related to the use of false documents. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the workers on Thursday, meanwhile, accused the government of violating their constitutional rights through arbitrary and indefinite detention.