Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Postville-One Year Later

Postville children of fathers in prison and mothers left without resources

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien"
Leviticus 19:33

One year ago today Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came in with helicopters and over 900 agents to raid Agriprocessors, Inc., the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant located in the town of Postville, Iowa, looking for undocumented workers. The raid – officials boasted – was "the largest single-site operation of its kind in American history."

Here is a first hand account by a government interpreter telling of how he saw these people treated and due process trampled -

Interpreting the Largest ICE Raid in U.S. History: A Personal Account

I live only a few hours from Postville - we have an ELCA church in Postville, whose pastor, Steve Bracket has been very active working with St. Bridget's Catholic church to help deal with the human devastation left in the wake of this raid. In fact Postville is the hometown of our synod Bishop.

There is a lot to this story, including horror stories of abuse and exploitation of the workers long before this raid. But of all the horrors involved in this, to me, one of the most egregious was the way the government (under direction of the Bush administration) decided to prosecute these workers for identity theft, since they had false and stolen social security numbers (given to them by Agriprocessors) They were intimidated into guilty pleas, many of them believing they would be deported and instead were sent to prison.

For "humanitarian reasons" several women with small children were not sent to prison, but were instead given monitoring devices and allowed to remain home with their children. HOWEVER - they were not allowed to work! Not allowed to go back to their country. And not eligible for any aid. So they were basically reduced to begging. The churches in Postville and nearby Decorah have been supporting these families at the cost of $80,000 a month. It was this particular travesty of justice that just blew my mind. And to this day, a year later--many of these women still do not have a court date in sight.

Oh yea and the charges of identity theft? Recently the Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot charge someone with aggravated identity theft unless you can prove they INTENDED to steal them. Postville Prosecutors Used Flawed Identity Theft Law

And get this – The one Agraprocessors employee who was charged and pleaded guilty to GIVING these numbers to the undocumented workers has been allowed to withdraw her plea because she is claiming now that she didn't know they were stolen. She just thought they were fake numbers! She gets to withdraw her plea. Lawyers are now trying to get the courts to allow the undocumented workers who were bullied into pleading guilty the same deal.

And those who complain that these people were taking jobs from Americans? The story gets even better. After the Mexican and Guatamalen workers were hauled off to jail, Agriprocessors flew in hundreds of people from PALAU – an American Pacific island thousands of miles away. Oh but they were legal. They were subject to the same kinds of abuses. They were promised housing and then Agriprocessors stopped paying for the heat (in the middle winter in Iowa!) Then they went bankrupt and left the Palauans stranded with no housing, no money and no way to get home. One night many of them spent the night in a roller skating rink. A lot of them eventually found work elsewhere but the churches were left to support them as well. You can read more about THAT disaster here:

Postville Palauans find tarnished American dream

All of this because we refuse to deal honestly with immigration reform.

Postville churches also will "sound a call for justice" by ringing their bells at 10 a.m., the time the raids began. Bells will toll 389 times at St. Paul Lutheran Church in remembrance of those arrested and their families, largely Guatemalan and Mexican nationals.

The 389 names will be read aloud during an interfaith prayer service later in the day at St. Bridget Catholic Church, followed by procession to the plant. Lutheran and Catholic bishops, as well as a rabbi, plan to participate.

"We will pray that something positive comes out of what happened at Agriprocessors -- that some of the hearts and damage done to people will be healed," Pastor Steve Brackett

I won't be able to be In Postville this afternoon but I will join them in their prayers and hope that you will as well.


Immigration raid leaves damaging mark on Postville,

Iowa American dream still shines for women detained in Postville raid

Postville, Iowa, One Year Later
A Statement from LIRS and 16 Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


  1. Great reflections, Pastor Joelle. It's been amazing to hear the stories of how God's grace continues to be present in such an unfortunate situation. Thanks for posting!!!

  2. Fair wages for work is something that I think and pray about. I haven't protested, or anything. My friend from Illinois went to some kind of support/protest in Postville with her church group.

    There has been much on public radio about the Postville issue and how some Rabbis were saying that workers should be treated in a "kosher" manner, not just the food being processed.

    In SW Minnesota there was also a raid. One thing that stood out for me was that the current workers were being paid less than half of what American workers were paid 20 years ago. So much for saying that the undocumented workers take American jobs.

  3. Honestly we are no better at this in the UK, my prayers are added to yours.