Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inhumane Raids on Immigrant Workers Are Fast Becoming the Silent Law of the Land!

As the Republicans and Democrats and some lawmakers who are caught in-between argue over "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" and how to deal with over 12 million undocumented workers in the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforment (ICE)have been raiding work places and detaining large numbers of immigrant workers (largely Latino). One such recent raid was in Postville, IA earlier this week.

Regardless of how we feel about the stream of poor migrant workers coming to the US, one thing is clear that migrants are contributing to the US economy by taking low paid agri business jobs, paying taxes, renting homes, buying in local markets. Especially in states like Nebraska and Iowa where the population replacement rate is very low (meaning there is a low-birth rate and higher death rate, and younger productive adults are out-bound). Most importantly the International Migrants Right treaties gurantees human rights of all migrants even if they crossed borders "illegally"!

Below please read the article from the Des-Moines Register, that narrates the harrowing experiences of the detainees and the economic impact of the ariad on the town. Please call your local congress person and tell them to bring a moratorium on raids, till a decision is reached on Immigration Reform.

May 14, 2008

Town of 2,273 wonders: What happens to us now?


Postville, Iowa - The future of 390 workers, the meat-processing plant that employed them, and this northeast Iowa town's economy remained in limbo Tuesday, one day after federal agents conducted what they're now calling the largest raid of its kind in the nation's history.

Twenty-nine Agriprocessors Inc. workers have been arrested on charges that include aggravated identity theft and the false use of Social Security numbers, federal officials said Tuesday.">Developing: A list of people detained in the raid

Ten of those detainees appeared before a judge for the first time Tuesday afternoon. Shackled at the waist and ankles, they shuffled single-file into a retro ballroom on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo. The men were given special earphones so they could hear the court proceedings being translated into Spanish.

The detainees were transported to Waterloo after Monday's raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville.

Federal officials said the number of people detained now totals 390, nearly four times as many as the raid on the Swift plant in Marshalltown 18 months ago.

Those arrested Monday include 314 men and 76 women. Fifty-six detainees - mostly women with young children - have been released under the supervision of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Most were required to wear an electronic monitoring device around one ankle.

Officials with ICE and the U.S. attorney's office in Cedar Rapids would not say whether others could face criminal charges.

Those not charged are being held under "administrative arrest" as alleged illegal immigrants. More initial appearances before a magistrate judge are scheduled for today.

Number of detainees surprises mayor

Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meat-processing plant, has employed 968 workers. Officials have said they believe as many as three-fourths of the workers were using fraudulent Social Security numbers.

Postville Mayor Bob Penrod said that he and others in town suspected there were illegal immigrants working at Agriprocessors, but that "nobody had any idea it would be that many."

The detainees included 290 who claimed to be Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, three Israelis and four Ukrainians. Twelve juveniles were among those detained, six of whom have been released, federal officials said.

The 12 juveniles were plant employees, officials said. Of the six who remained in detention, federal agents were seeking "responsible adults" to take custody of them, said Claude Arnold, the ICE special agent in charge.

At a Tuesday morning news conference in Cedar Rapids, U.S. Attorney Matt Dummermuth called the raid "the largest single-site operation of its kind in the country."

Customs and law enforcement agents worked through the night processing the detainees, Arnold said. Those workers who are charged with criminal offenses have been assigned attorneys.

The detainees' initial appearances Tuesday were held in the Electric Park Ballroom, an old-school music hall that has been transformed into a temporary courtroom. A portable trailer will serve as another makeshift courtroom.

"The plans went very well," Arnold said. "As you can imagine, it's a huge undertaking, so it takes a while for people to get into the groove and for things to start rolling. But they were moving along very well."

He did not expect anyone to be detained at the Waterloo fairgrounds past tonight.

Officials say detainees eat Hy-Vee catered meals

Those workers charged with criminal offenses would be transferred to custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, he said. Those believed to be in the country illegally would remain in ICE custody and have a hearing before an immigration judge. Those hearings could take place anywhere in the country, Arnold said.

Asked about rumors that people were being housed in pens in the cattle barns, ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez shook her head.

"They hold proms here," she said. "This is a place for conferences and other events. Everyone is being treated humanely within the rule of law."

Everyone has three meals a day catered by Hy-Vee plus an evening snack, and access to telephones, medical teams, showers, recreational activities, and a list of free legal services, Gonzalez said.

But immigration rights volunteers, who are keeping a steadfast lookout for any possible problems, said that detainees had not yet had access to lawyers of their choosing, and that they they'd heard some people were not given supper Monday.

Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the organization has gathered information indicating that detainees have not been given adequate time to meet with attorneys "and that defense attorneys are being overwhelmed (with) requests to represent far more clients than is advisable - or perhaps even ethical."

Nationally, ICE agents arrested 863 people on criminal charges in 2007 and detained more than 4,000 people - a tenfold increase from five years earlier, according to the agency's Web site.

A total of 697 complaints and warrants were issued for the Iowa raid, including for aggravated identity theft and unlawful use of a Social Security number. Authorities are still trying to match the people they detained with suspicious documents they discovered during the investigation, some of which includes fictitious names.

"This literally blew our town away"

Dummermuth declined to comment about possible charges against supervisors, managers or owners at Agriprocessors, citing the ongoing investigation.

Federal papers released Monday detailed several eyewitness accounts of employee abuse.

Company officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The plant appeared to resume limited operations Tuesday morning. A company representative near the entrance could be heard talking about "today's chicken kill."

The man said company executives had no comment. "They don't want to talk to anybody," he said.

The Postville plant opened in 1987 by Hasidic Jews who wanted to move near the product, and remains owned and operated by Aaron Rubashkin and his two sons.

The company processes and packages kosher meat and poultry products under the Aaron's Best brand. Nonkosher meats include the Iowa Best Beef brand.

The plant is one of largest employers in northeast Iowa, and Postville residents attempted Tuesday to assess the social and economic damage to their town, one of the most ethnically diverse in the state.

Christina Drahos, an accountant and president of the Postville Chamber of Commerce, said the town is in fairly good shape economically, because of the meatpacking plant and because farmers are receiving high prices for their crops.

She predicted the town, which has 2,273 residents, would survive. "Postville is a community that comes together, and that probably is our biggest asset," she said.

Some businesses are feeling the raid's effect more than others. The town's largest landlord, GAL Investments, rents 130 apartments, duplexes and houses for about $450 to $800 per month. Almost all of the tenants are Guatemalan or Mexican immigrants who work at the plant, said Theresa Fravel, the office manager.

She worried that even those who weren't arrested will flee. "Some people have actually packed up and left town," she said.

Jeff Abbas, who runs KPVL, a community radio station, said immigrants are vital to the town.

"If you talk to the average Joe on the street who grew up here, they'll say, 'Yeah, they'll be back in a week,' " he said. "But I don't think they'll be back in a week."

Postville's school Superintendent David Strudthoff said about a third of the elementary and middle school's 363 students were absent Tuesday. Most of them are Latino, he said. Only three of the high school's 15 Latino students were in school Tuesday. He said the school district's future is unclear.

"We had 10 percent of our entire community arrested in 12 hours," he said. "We're into new territory here in Postville that's never been seen before. It's just like having a tornado that wiped out an entire part of town."

If Agriprocessors closes its doors, "it'll be a ghost town here," said Penrod, the mayor. "It's not like Swift in Marshalltown. When that happens here, it has a huge, huge impact. We didn't need this. This literally blew our town away."

This article includes contributions from Ken Fuson in Des Moines, Tony Leys and Nigel Duara in Postville, and Jerry Perkins in Waterloo.

Copyright ©2008 The Des Moines Register.

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Is the economy a bigger problem in the US than racism?