Daily Archives: May 15, 2008

Thursday’s Column – Postville

POSTVILLE – The sprawling Agriprocessors packing plant on the outskirts of town is imposing and intimidating even if you don’t know about the jaw-dropping lawlessness our government says went on inside these fences.Knowing sends a chill up your back.

So it’s probably lucky you can’t stay long. Tuesday, a stern, but polite, woman told Gazette video journalist Mike Barnes and myself to leave, pronto.

Fair enough. Nothing to see. No one’s talking. But there was plenty to see elsewhere.

There was St. Bridget’s Catholic parish near downtown, where dozens of plant workers and their families milled around inside the church and outside in the courtyard. Many here have family members among the 390 plant workers detained by federal immigration officials at Monday’s historic raid.

I know workers broke the law in coming here and working here and must deal with the consequences. Fine.

But you’d have to be one hard-bitten, coldhearted Minuteman to look into the anxious, dazed faces of these people, as their children played around their feet, and not feel some sort of sympathy.

“They’re lost,” said Sister Mary McCauley, pastoral administrator at the church.

McCauley wishes Iowa’s congressmen could be here to see this. So do I.

But I’m less forgiving.

This would have been a great spot for a congressional junket. Time for our so-called leaders to see what dereliction of leadership and government malpractice look like, close up.

This is what it looks like when you do next to nothing to rein in a meat packing industry that’s mutated into a monolithic monopoly of misery fattened by illegal immigration. Could it be that the folks who run this industry line political pockets with campaign donations? Campaign finance records show that members of the Rubashkin family, which owns the Postville plant, donated tens of thousands of dollars, mostly to Republicans, over the last decade. Say it ain’t so.

I think we’ll all be watching to see if top Agriprocessors executives take one of those famous federal perp walks. Justice demands it.

Add congressional inaction on big ag’s excesses to its inability to control the nation’s southern border or come up with a realistic plan for dealing with illegal immigrants already here, some for years, and you understand why Congress gets the kind of dismal approval ratings it so richly deserves.

This is a crisis, and all we get from Washington is a deficit of courage and a surplus of rhetoric.

I listened to federal officials describe, with straight faces, the detention center at the Cattle Congress fairgrounds like it was a summer camp, complete with bilingual board games in the rec room. Then they touted portable federal courtrooms on wheels, pulled onto the fairgrounds to dispense American justice by the truckload like kosher hot dogs.

So let me get this straight: After allowing illegal immigration to explode and for plants like Agriprocessors to reap the benefits for years, and now, after federal helicopters and buses roar in to save the day, tear up a town and scores of families, do they want us to stand and cheer? No thanks.

Instead, I’ll pray that the next Congress and president can fix this. And that Postville can heal.

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