Iowans to Congressmen: Stop Immigration Raids
An immigration raid that arrested nearly 400 people in northeastern Iowa scarred a small town and tore families apart, residents said Saturday.
Dozens begged a visiting congressional delegation to do everything in its power to stop federal immigration raids. The May raid in Postville at Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials was the largest of its kind in U.S. history.
Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., Albio Sires, D-N.J., and Joe Baca, D-Calif., members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, heard three hours of often emotional testimony. Women whose husbands are being detained talked about their longing to be reunited, underage workers detailed deplorable working conditions and city and religious officials lamented the impact on the community.
The speakers alternated between sharp criticism of immigration officials and the Department of Homeland Security for launching what they called an inhumane raid, and at their former employer, Agriprocessors, which they said took advantage of workers and allowed unsafe conditions. Many said they were equally responsible for the situation.
By the end, Gutierrez said he had heard enough.
"This is wrong," he said. "We've taken men and women who want to work and made felons out of them."
Gilda Yolanda Ordonez Lopez, 17, wept as she described working 12-hour shifts with no overtime pay.
When Adolpho Wilson was an employee at the plant, he was cleaning an unplugged meat grinding machine when someone turned it on by mistake, he said.
"I shouted, I screamed. I said, 'Help me, help me!'" Wilson said in Spanish. "When they heard me, they took apart the machine, but it had eaten my hand."
Jerry Messer, a local union official with the United Food and Commercial Workers, said Agriprocessors should be punished.
"The family that owns that place, they're the ones who should be prosecuted," he said. "They're the ones who should be deported, not the workers."
Phone messages left with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Agriprocessors by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.
Postville Mayor Robert Penrod told the congressmen to take the message back to Washington that immigration raids do not work.
"This raid did nothing for this community," he said. "It downgraded us substantially. It caused people to suffer, and it caused our reputation to suffer clear across the country."
Sires, the New Jersey congressman, said he was convinced.
"I don't see this type of thing working someplace else," he said. "We don't want it to ever happen again."