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)