From a former Fi2W journalist-turned Internet entrepreneur.
This is not a reversal for Romney, who has always expressed tough love for undocumented immigrants, but it’s a clear statement that Hispanic voters in Iowa will hear in the countdown before Tuesday’s GOP caucus.
By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the raid by immigration authorities on a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The raid at Agriprocessors ended with the arrest of nearly 400 undocumented workers, and became a symbol of the Bush Administration’s hardline approach to immigration enforcement.
A year later, news reports from Postville make it clear that the town’s survival was endangered by the raid, and the plant’s fate is not yet decided.
After a great number of those arrested served prison sentences and were deported, many local businesses closed and the Agriprocessors plant itself never managed to get back on its feet. The company’s main executives face a number of charges including violation of child-labor, immigration and industrial safety laws.
For pro-immigrant activists, Postville has become shorthand for what was wrong with an immigration enforcement approach that focused mainly on lining up immigrants by the dozens or hundreds and speedily deporting them back to their home countries. With the change in occupancy at the White House, advocates are now waiting to see if President Barack Obama — whose administration is reviewing the policy on work-site raids — will call them off for good.
In the aftermath of the Agriprocessors raid, 270 undocumented workers were charged with identity theft — which led them to accept plea deals that included swift deportation. New York Times reporter Julia Preston described the legal proceedings in a speech we published last year:
On May 12, the day of the round-up at the Postville plant, the defense lawyers were presented by the United States Attorney with plea agreements: the immigrants could either accept a criminal charge that would entail five months in federal prison, or go to trial on a more severe felony charge that involved a two-year mandatory minimum. Most of the offenses revolved around the immigrants’ use of fraudulent social security cards or immigration visas, known as green cards, to obtain work. Only a handful of the immigrants had any prior criminal record. They were being treated as criminals for working.
Just a week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that undocumented workers who unknowingly use Social Security numbers that belong to real people can’t be charged with “aggravated identity theft.” The ruling applies to many former Agriprocessors workers, but they have long since been deported, and are unlikely to benefit from the court’s decision.
In a rural Iowa town that was once a bustling model of small-town resurgence, scores of families are left to rely on local food pantries and churches for their meals. Parents have been left to watch over their children while wearing ankle bracelets but are unable to seek work to provide for them. The school’s population has been halved, and a gang of minors makes a weekly trip to Cedar Rapids to report to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency which monitors their status. There’s nothing left to do but wait. Their fate doesn’t rest in their own hands, reports New America Media in a series of articles on the effects of the largest immigration raid in history has had on a local community.
And they are the lucky ones. Nearly 400 workers were arrested and detained in the largest immigration raid in history at Agriprocessors, a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. Three-quarters of these workers were hustled through the legal system in a matter of a few weeks — arrested, detained and then allowed to plead guilty to charges they didn’t understand, unaware that they were facing criminal charges and were being sent to prison for sentences averaging five months each. The treatment of these workers lead a long-time court interpreter and college professor, Erik Camayd-Freixas, to break his professional code of silence to report on the abuses that these workers faced in a 12-page essay that made national headlines. After serving time in jail, largely for identity theft including social security fraud, the workers will be deported back to their home countries, torn apart from their wives or children who are under government supervision in Postville.
For Agriprocessors, however, it’s back to business as usual. After a dip in production and escalating Kosher meat prices (the company produces about 40 percent of the country’s Kosher meat) production is nearly back to normal reports the Jewish Journal. So far only two low-level managers have been charged, despite the government accusing Agriprocessors of paying workers below the federal minimum wage, hiring minors, numerous safety violations and allegations of worker abuse that included a manager duct-taping one workers’ eyes and beating him with a meat hook. The company has also been accused of providing workers with false documentation, such as social security cards, to work at the plant.
There appears to be a stark disparity in the government prosecution of those who work illegally in this country and those who provide them with work despite bombastic claims by ICE officials that employers are no longer safe from prosecution.