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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9 Comments

Filed under Illegal Immigration, Postville

9 responses to “Thursday’s Column – Postville

  1. Republican

    Let’s not forget the $10,000 donation to Patty Judge. (Let’s see–what was her position before the election? What type of influence was bought then?)

    It’s not just about the “Republicans”. It’s about people with power being bought off.

  2. I totally agree with your column today. Right on! I am so appalled by the situation in Postville, and am frustrated at my lack of ability to do anything about it. Why can’t we just let people into our country that want to work, on a guest worker program, and quit hasseling them?! Agriprocessors paid the illegals 5 bucks an hour, now they are hiring at $11 an hour, with benefits. Why aren’t they in trouble for that?!!!

  3. Bob

    Good comments.
    Steve King should be required to be present at such occasions.
    Our legal immigration system is a complete mess. There is NO legal immigration from Guatemala for anyone who is not very wealthy.
    Many of the Guatemalans who are here have had family members killed by the U.S. sponsored Guatemalan military, that sees anyone who tries to help the poor or Indian populations as a part of an international communist conspiracy.

    Many US officials from today’s “bomb them first and ask questions later” crowd cut their teeth on the death squads of Guatemala and Honduras.

    The local employers take terrible advantage of these folks, because they can. We should all be ashamed. Now we are going to put many of these folks in prison for paying money into some else’s social security account. Does this make any sense?

  4. Last time I checked, we lived in a Democrat-controlled state. I agree with a lot of the sentiment here: exploitation flies against the principles (if not always the practices) of this country: the companies who foster illegal workers should be nailed. I just don’t think it is a Republicans-only issue.

    I doubt that Steve King would change his mind on immigration if he saw these families in distress. He would simply point to a different root cause: that permissiveness towards illegal immigration leads to the exploitation and disruption of families.

    And he’d be right.

    I’m not exactly certain how the treatment of illegal alien workers has become a partisan issue: one side calls for more understanding toward the immigrant – another calls for stricter enforcement of the border; one side calls for strict scrutiny of employers – another calls for tougher laws on illegal alien identity theft.

    Democrats and Republicans would both be right, if they’d ever drop the grandstanding and step up and enforce their own positions while allowing the others’ to be enacted.

    The people who suffer most from illegal immigration are legal immigrants. We should treat our newest and future citizens with respect towards both the rule of law and the golden rule.

  5. Dot

    Todd, you are so right on. Finally, someone pointing fingers in the right direction — at the companies who profit by breaking the law on a daily basis. And at the politicians and bureaucrats who look the other way, until they can turn it to their advantage, that is. How much planning (and dollars) went into this big raid, on such a grand scale? Hmmm? And just as planned, it turned into a media circus, with feds parading in front of cameras, touting their great success. Really, a success? I don’t think so. Companies who have policies to exploit — yes, exploit — illegal workers are known and yet ignored. Until it fits an agenda, such as making a big push before elections, so that politicians can take a tough stand on immigration or play the others side, fighting for reform that allows more guest workers? Do these big raids happen in parts of the country heavily populated by recent immigrants, including those who hold elected office? Hmmm. We need a better system to allow more guest workers and hold employers accountable for what it costs to deal with the resulting issues. Heavy penalties on known repeat offenders might be a good way to start paying for that. I want to see the execs take a perp walk, their pockets bleeding cash into “the system” and not just paying their fancy lawyers.

  6. Steve

    Forget just for one minute about the immigrant populations are ilegal, and consider them just”folks” like most of us. Would we tolerate the discrimination that Agri-processors brought down on these people? Would we let them off the hook if they didn’t have this “cooperation” thing going on because these folks are ilegal? Is it time to bring back “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to show the population what it is like to be on the recieving end of explotation? There is nothing I can say that is positive about what is happening, but the worst of what is going on is aimed squarely at those who are being exploited and not at the people who have been doing the exploitation.
    During slavery, the government supported “property rights” of the slave owner while the slave suffered under a legal stranglehold. We ended that and freed the slaves. Today we over look the abuse of the current “slaveholder” and uphold immigration law as the way to solve the problem. The problem is the current slaver, not the unforunate man or woman who comes only to work.

  7. Mike

    Are you kidding? It’s now the Government’s fault that these people came into our country illegally?! Yes, it’s a hardship when lives are turned upside down and arrests are made but that’s what is suposed to happen in the process of trying to fix this problem! Every ILLEGAL immigrant knows the risks they are taking by CHOOSING to come here illegally. Our government isn’t promoting this, there is no conspiracy and they have LEGAL steps in place for immigrants to come to our country. Several steps have already been taken and continue to be made to hold the EMPLOYERS responsible for hiring illegal immigrants. How lazy is it to just blame this all on the “politicians”! Iowa Legislature just this year singed a bill to required employers to get photo ID’s from all employees in an effort to force employers to verify citizenship of its employees. Something is being done but it won’t be fixed overnight.
    Just because there are a very large number of immigrants that have come here illegally, doesn’t mean we do away with the laws and decide that the problem is too big to handle. If that were the case then you should also be promoting the leagalization of all illegal drugs and sex offenders because there are just too many abusers of both, to bother with. That argument makes no sense other than to those who claim to have all the answers and blame every problem on the government.

  8. Dot

    Finally, a more thoughtful perspective. I have been astounded by the harshness of comments made Gazette readers who seem to forget that illegal workers are people. It was nice to read your reminder.
    The “us” against “them” comments by so many worry me and leave me to wonder: How much progress have we really made?
    The economy is bad — it’s a recession, George — and we’re involved in a seemingly endless war abroad. People are cranky and lashing out at others least likely to be able to defend themselves. It’s disheartening.

  9. Does anyone else see the tragic coincidence in locking people up at the Cattle Congress fairgrounds?

    The big meat processors herd cattle through the system by the millions while capitalizing on the cheap labor of illegal aliens. When it comes time for a politically motivated demonstration of resolve against the flood of millions of illegal aliens, the federales herd the workers off to the Cattle Congress.

    Someone decided to set an example and pretend to be dealing with our difficult immigration issues. It says “Bush Administration” all over it. Will the feds whack other big companies that hire illegals by the hundreds? Don’t hold your breath. Business won’t stand for it.

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