Postville raid prompts immigration reform rally
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)--Immigration reform advocates and religious leaders from across the Midwest are planning a rally in northeast Iowa nearly two months after a raid at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville ended in nearly 400 arrests.
The rally, scheduled for July 27, was organized by Jewish and Catholic groups from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. It is expected to draw hundreds of people to the town of about 2,200 residents.
Organizers are using the raid at the Agriprocessors Inc., plant on May 12 as an example of what's wrong with the nation's immigration laws. Federal officials have called it the largest single immigration raid in the nation's history.
"Our national immigration policies are tearing apart and hurting hardworking, taxpaying people who are just here trying to support their families," said Tom Walsh, with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a Chicago-based group helping organize the rally.
He said more 175 families in Postville, including more than 500 children, "just lost not only their mother or father, but in many cases, the sole breadwinner for their homes."
Authorities said some undocumented workers who were sole caregivers for children were allowed to return home with ankle bracelets that monitor their movement. However, immigrants reform advocates claimed those parents aren't able to find work and must rely on handouts from local churches and other groups.
"This enforcement-only approach creates massive human suffering, separation of families and economic dislocation," Gideon Aronoff, CEO of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said during a conference call with reporters earlier this month.
Since the raid, allegations have arisen of unsafe conditions, child labor violations and low-paid workers abused by supervisors at Agriprocessors. Before the raid, the company produced about half of the nation's kosher beef and 40 percent of its kosher chicken.
Most of the 389 workers arrested were charged with using false identification or incorrect Social Security numbers. Two plant supervisors were later charged with aiding and abetting the possession and use of fraudulent identification.
An Agriprocessors spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment.
An organization of American Orthodox Jews, Uri L'Tzedek, had called for a boycott of any businesses that sold the company's meat. It backed off the boycott earlier this month after Agriprocessors hired a former federal prosecutor as chief compliance officer.
Agriprocessors, started by Aaron Rubashkin, a Hassidic Jew from New York, has recently been criticized in both mainstream and Jewish publications. The company has said little about the raid or its aftermath, but allegations have arisen that its public relations firm faked comments on an Internet blog that has been critical of Agriprocessors.
There also was an outcry after someone bought ads in Guatemala City newspapers that sought workers, noting an "excellent job opportunity in the United States meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa." Company officials denied they had anything to do with the ads.
The groups planning the immigration reform rally this month in Postville are St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, Jewish Community Action of St. Paul, Minn., and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs of Chicago. They promised testimony from people directly affected by the raid, as well as talk about immigration reform and workers' rights.
"This is a call for justice. This is a call to be faithful to our American and religious values," Sister Mary McCauley with St. Bridget's Catholic Church said in a statement. "This is a call to stand in solidarity with our Hispanic brothers and sisters."
Organizers are worried that the rally could draw too many supporters, and are asking that anyone planning to attend register with their groups.
"It's so clear that the town has been devastated by the raid and they are reeling and they are trying to cope with it and trying to help the families cope with it," said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. "We want to come out with a strong support, (but) we don't want to overwhelm the community."