FYI: This piece was written a while ago, but includes information from the Democracy Now report that just happened this past week and some info on the face of Postville now, 3 months after the raids.
400 people were arrested in Postville Iowa in the largest ICE Raid in history. The raid targeted largely male workers in the agriprocessor sector. 395 people were charged without contest for criminal offenses related to ID fraud, despite the fact that most did not understand the charges or their rights to contest them and were offered plea deals under the threat of “worse” if they did not take them. At least one lawyer claims that they were denied due process, including private meetings with their attorneys, access to individual attorneys, and translation in their first language – which is not always Spanish. (see more in the DN report below)
Women were deeply impacted by the raids. First, female workers at Postville were part of the round up. They lost access to their children, including babies that were still nursing, without warning nor concern. Currently they are under various forms of arrest with skin chaffing id bracelets attached to their legs and an already demonstrated system of injustice in the courts handling their cases hanging over their heads.
Non-targeted women (ie homemakers or female workers in other industries in the town) lost the primary or main source of income in their household and possibly several incomes at once depending on the number of family members employed at the largest employer in Postville. In many cases, the raids also labeled these women as undocumented, ensuring that they could not work. Others, afraid of being deported in a raid, did not return to their jobs. The result is that most of the women are also unemployed and unable to be employed.
For women who did not immediately hear about the raids, there was also the fear and confusion about the location of their sons and husbands. Some women went for days without knowing what had happened. As fear turned into confirmation that men were being held for deportation, women’s anxieties and stressers went up.
Postville itself was permanently changed by the raid. It lost 1/2 of its total population and its major labor source. Businesses that depended on that labor as well as those that depended on income from those workers and their families (grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, etc.) have all lost income and production.
Thus the idea that immigration raids actually makes N. America better, continues to be disproved. The idea that targeting “illegal workers” helps N. American citizens have access to jobs and success has also been radically undermined by the impact of the Postville raid which has essentially transformed Postville into a ghost town like many other sites of major raids. Worse, for women, Postville has become what Democracy Now calls “an open air prison” where they are unable to work, unable to support themselves, and unable to leave.
The community itself is divided, not by immigrants vs. citizens but rather by those who recognize the import of the Latino community in Postville and the politicians and ICE officers who do not:
There has been no similar detention and criminalization of employers who, in the case of Postville, are white immigrants who cut salaries by more than half when the worker population became Latino. The failure to sanction them continues to punish immigrant workers in a system that continues to depend on them and reward employers who use them to cut costs. As proof of the continued dependence on immigrant labor, the meat processing plant has simply replaced incarcerated Latin@ workers with Somali immigrants from neighboring areas.
The plant has also come under criticism for violating child labor laws and safety and health violations. This criticism includes the State of Iowa investigating claims but certainly not to the degree that workers were investigated, criminalized and arrested. Abuse of workers has also been raised by advocates. Thankfully, some members of the Jewish community are questioning whether or not the plant meets Kosher standards if the workers are not protected. It is unclear if their concerns will translate into changes.
Comprehensive reform requires that we look at all of these sides in establishing a system in which no one is criminalized for working nor offering safe labor contracts to workers and in which we consider the impact on communities, families, and especially women and children whenever the state acts.