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Iowa: More than 1,000 march in Postville against Immigration Raid at Agriprocessor

by Niger Arevalo and Brad Sigal |
July 30, 2008
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Families in red tshirts in protest march
March in Postville, Iowa against raid at Agriprocessers. (Fight Back! News)
Banner with long slogan denounce ICE and its wrecking families
Woman who is now forced to wear one of the monitoring 'ankle bracelets.'
March in Postville, Iowa against raid at Agriprocessers. (Fight Back! News)
Immigrant worker at Postville, Iowa march who is now forced to wear one of the government monitoring 'ankle bracelets.' (Fight Back! News)

Postville, IA - More than a thousand people gathered in the small town of Postville, Iowa, July 27, to protest the largest immigration raid in U.S. history - the raid took place here at the Agriprocessor kosher meat processing plant - and to demand an end to such immigration raids. On May 12, about 400 immigrant workers, mostly from Guatemala and Mexico, who worked at the plant were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Most were either put in jail or deported.

At 1:00 pm about 2000 people came together in Postville’s Saint Bridget Church. Many protesters came from as far as North Dakota, Wisconsin, Chicago and Minnesota and from other areas of Iowa. To the surprise of many, a handful of anti-immigrant counter-protesters were waiting for them at the church.

The organizers started the action with a religious service in which local government authorities participated, along with a representative from the Guatemalan consulate. At 1:45 the march started. The first stop on the march was in front of the Agriprocessor plant where the massive immigration raid took place. There some leaders of the Jewish community spoke about how the raid had happened and the losses suffered because of the raid.

The march continued and made another stop at a nearby park, where people spoke about the importance of maintaining unity in the face of this racist anti-immigrant wave. The march then continued around the block where the anti-immigrant counter-protesters were waiting with banners that read, “People like you deserve to be in hell.” The marchers refused to be provoked by the counter-protesters and continued back to the church, where more people were waiting to join the march.

At the end of the march there were speakers. The mayor of Postville said immigrants are welcome here, and that he wants an end to raids. He said that they want the people back who were taken in the raid, that the community needs them.

Then some immigrant workers who had been detained in the raid spoke. They are now forced to wear a government-issued leg bracelet, a device that allows immigration officials to track them. They spoke of about the importance of uniting to end these racist raids and said that people shouldn’t wait to be in their situation before they act.

Children of detained immigrants expressed their sadness when they read a very moving poem written by another child: “We are Latinos and we will never be ashamed of our parents or our origin, and we pledge to defend our community.” Another child said, “As children affected by the raid we demand that they stop the raids, and we ask all immigrant communities for support.”

One man named Angel remarked, “This town is destroyed - now there is no peace and people are leaving to go somewhere else. My brother was one of the people detained in the plant and he’s still in prison. This is an injustice and we need a lot of support from the community.” Many other immigrant workers from Postville said similar things.

In addition to Latinos and other immigrant groups, many Jewish groups in the Midwest also mobilized for Sunday’s protest to show their opposition to how the owners of the Agriprocessor plant treated immigrant workers, and expressing opposition to the raid that took place there.

The Agriprocessor plant where the May 12 raid happened is the largest kosher meat processing plant in the country. Kosher foods are those that conform to Jewish dietary laws. To be considered kosher, meat must be processed according to more humane standards. When the terrible workplace conditions, mistreatment of immigrant workers and child labor violations at Agriprocessor started to become known, some Jewish community leaders in the Midwest began to speak out against conditions at Agriprocessor and have even proposed changing kosher laws to include better treatment of workers, not just the more humane slaughter of animals.

The main message of the march was for immigrant workers and their supporters to be organized and support each other to stop the immigration raids.