Immigration Inching Towards Reform One Year After Postville Raids

Today, May 12, 2008, marks the one-year anniversary of the immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history, arresting 389 immigrants at the Iowa Agriprocessors meatpacking plant for the crime of working without proper authorization. Aside from the tragedy of separating families and decimating a local economy, the raid symbolizes the failed enforcement-only policies of the Bush administration and serves as yet another grim reminder of the desperate need for fair and comprehensive immigration reform.

Last May, undocumented immigrants in Postville were rounded up, charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and some even sentenced to five months in prison without being informed of their rights. An interpreter, Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, who assisted as a translator during these below-the-belt trials described the event as a “twist in Dickensian cruelty:”

The system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. The court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

One year later, the immigration raid has left Postville nearly insolvent.  Agriprocessers has filed for bankruptcy, Postville’s population has declined by half, and its mayor has resigned because he felt overwhelmed by the town’s problems. Some progress, however, has been made.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that federal identity-theft law can not be applied against many undocumented workers who use false Social Security numbers to work in the U.S.—which thwarts ICE’s efforts to threaten undocumented workers to agree to immediate deportation or boost prison sentences through identity theft charges. And the Obama administration recently issued enforcement guidelines to target bad seed employers instead of focusing on undocumented workers—a step in the right direction. Yet more serious changes are still needed.

In a constructive spirit of reform and restoration, the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition (IIEC), a nonpartisan education coalition of business, labor, education, health, religious, civil- and immigrant-rights groups, created seven principles for common-sense solutions that should be included in any legislative effort to fix our immigration system.  Among the common sense solutions, the nonpartisan group demanded smarter enforcement policies, a path to citizenship to protect workers’ rights, an increase in the number of family visas, stronger and safer borders, immigrant integration programs and fundamental rights for all. The IIEC calls for all members of the community to be a part of the solution:

We must renew our commitment to core American values of fairness and justice and remember that immigration has made this country the dynamic nation that it is, a nation as diverse as it is strong.

The Iowa Immigration Education Coalition’s call to arms is just the latest movement in national drive toward actual comprehensive immigration reform. While progress is being made in terms of bringing a dose of justice to our immigration system, it still doesn’t constitute actual comprehensive immigration reform that fully promotes our core values.  The Postville immigration raid didn’t just destroy businesses and families—the highest cost was paid in terms of who we are and what we stand for as a free nation. Until we overhaul our entire broken immigration system, we compromise our national identity and what we value as Americans— fairness, opportunity and the rule of law.

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  • Alex

    We must call our representatives in Washington and we must do it non stop and demand that “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” be passed this year. Our government, knowingly has allowed these people to work here for years and many have had children here — they need to have a legal status and they need it now.

  • Glenn Leach

    According to figures ICE released, the raid cost US tax payers 6.5 million dollars. Considering the 900 police, the helicopters, dogs, automatic weapons, busses, the temporay holding cells, the mobile courtroom set up, and the motel bills for the police, judges, translators, and court officials and personnel for weeks before and after the raid, it is likely much more.

    What did our millions in tax money buy? The economic devastation of a town, breakup of hundreds of families, children (both native born and immigrant) who have nightmares when they hear a helicopter, all for the arrest of 389 people, most on charges that were subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.

    Raids are not the answer. The work in Postville, in the other packing plants, fields, hotels, restaurants, casinos, and many other places needs to be done. Even with the economic situation in this country, the packing plants, farmers are not being innundated with native born workers. The hours are too long and the pay too low. The Guatemalans at Postville traveled nearly 1800 miles for a job that most Americans won’t take.

    The work needs doing. There are workers who are willing. There are unemployed in this country. There are familes separated from husbands, wives or children by thousands of miles due to immigration restrictions. The native born popoulation in the US is aging out of the workplace while increasing numbers are taking Social Security being supported by fewer and fewer workers. Obviously we need to work out a solution.

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