POSTVILLE IOWA: A HUMANITRIAN CRISIS?
By Barth Anderson from Fair Food Fight.com
Postville, Iowa, is reeling at the moment.
On May 12, 2008, the largest single immigration raid in the country at the time was conducted against Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, IA.
Now, six months later, the fallout from that raid is still raining down on this little Iowa town. Over 9000 counts of child-labor violations were leveled at management, along with charges of conspiring to hire illegal immigrants, and felony charges relating to identity theft. (One Agriprocessors Human Resources Manager is said to have skipped the country.)
In the wake of all this, Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy in early November and stripped their operation down to nearly nothing, causing more hardship for employees still working at the plant.
But this last week, things went from bad to worse.
389 arrests were made last May, mostly of undocumented workers arrested by ICE (Immigration and Customes Enforcement). This forced Agriprocessors to eliminate their kosher beef line and focus solely on poultry.
To make up for their work force being gutted by the ICE raid, and assuming they would soon be back on their feet, Agriprocessors flew in workers from the island nation of Palau. Each Palauan worker was given a round trip ticket and promised $9/hr (compared to the $2/hr they were making in Palau).
Unfortunately, Agriprocessors couldn't make good on even $9/hr. The company didn't make payroll last Friday, leaving all their workers (but the Palauans in particular) in dire straits. On Friday night, the landlord of a local rental property, who presumably knew that workers had not been paid, asked Alliant Energy to cut power to workers' rental units. (The State of Iowa intervened, and power was restored later in the weekend).
In the wake of this turn of events, many workers were suddenly homeless this weekend. Seventeen Paluans were shuttled to nearby Decorah, IA, where they were housed in a skating rink. A bitter reversal in what they thought would be their first glimpse of the American dream.
Meanwhile, the Guatemalan and Mexican undocumented workers who'd been arrested back in May are still awaiting trial in Postville. Many were released back into the community wearing GPS leg bracelets but with nowhere to go. Many went to St. Bridget's Church, which provided aid to most of the former Agriprocessors undocumented workers. But the church is being pushed to the financial brink by this crisis
FailedMessiah, who has been doing the heavy lifting on this issue, is calling this a "staggering humanitarian crisis," and it may well be (it's hard to get a bead on how strapped the town of Postville is, in this situation). If you would like to help, that blog is organizing a response, and you can make donations through their site -- they even have directions for food donations (if you happen to live in the Twin Cities).
In particular, you could make donations directly to St. Bridget's Church, which sorely needs the help.
More information here:
We've been covering this at Fair Food Fight for a couple weeks now. The link above is to all article tagged with "Agriprocessors".