Wednesday, November 5, 2008

IOWA: Postville Streets Empty As Immigration Officials Return

Remember yesterday when we posted a story about an immigration raid in Iowa during Election Day? Here's another story in the Des Moines Register. Marissa Graciosa with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and Erica Palmer from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) are quoted:


Federal immigration agents returned to Agriprocessors Inc. on Tuesday and arrested one suspected illegal immigrant in a follow-up to a May raid, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.

The secretive operation shocked an already rattled Postville, which has struggled in recent weeks as the kosher meat plant - the city's largest employer - verges on financial collapse.

Agents descended on the plant Tuesday afternoon, said two church pastors who have helped the company's workers in recent months. Frightened plant employees then began arriving at St. Bridget's Catholic Church, they said.

"Our office is in a state of chaos," said the Rev. Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget's Catholic Church. "We have people coming off the streets right now in fear."

Agriprocessors was the site of one of the nation's largest single-site immigration raids in May. Federal agents detained 389 illegal immigrant workers in an investigation that continued the national debate over immigration and led to criminal charges against a top executive.

One woman who arrived at the church said agents arrested her husband, who is Hispanic, said the Rev. Steve Brackett of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Postville. Brackett said Postville's streets emptied quickly as word spread that immigration agents had arrived.

Tim Counts, an ICE spokesman, said agents arrested one man at the plant who was a suspected illegal immigrant. Counts declined to identify the man, but confirmed that agents were still present at the plant Tuesday evening.

Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, confirmed that ICE agents had visited the plant but declined to disclose the reason.

Federal authorities typically release criminal complaints and other case information through an online registry of court records. No records connected to Agriprocessors had been posted to the site by Tuesday evening.

Authorities can detain suspected illegal immigrants without public notice if no criminal charges are filed, Counts said. He said ICE generally confirms the arrest of specific individuals if they are given the person's name.

An advocate for immigration reform criticized the federal action and its timing.

"It's appalling that the federal agents chose today, Election Day, to spread fear amongst the residents of Postville," said Marissa Graciosa, director of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

Erica Palmer, a community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, called the action "inhumane and destructive to our community fabric."

Tuesday's operation followed a devastating month for Agriprocessors. Federal agents in October arrested Sholom Rubashkin, 49, a top plant manager, on immigration and identity-theft charges. A St. Louis bank alleged in a lawsuit that the company had defaulted on a $35 million loan. Iowa's Labor Department proposed nearly $10 million in fines for assorted labor violations. And the company reportedly owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alliant Energy and nearly $70,000 to the city of Postville.

Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors spokesman, did not return several phone messages Tuesday.

Brackett said that the raid and its recent aftershocks threaten Postville's future. The plant came in the 1980s and brought jobs and workers from nearly 20 countries.

"I just shake my head and think, who could think of this as a good idea?" Brackett said.

No comments: