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.