Immigration Enforcement Policies Hurt Us All
Just over a year ago, the complexity of the problems in our immigration system was laid bare for the community of Postville, Iowa. The story of Postville is a dramatic tale of the effects of immigration enforcement, but the events and consequences that unfolded a year ago in Iowa are occurring each and every day in communities in New Jersey, only on a smaller scale. Parents are separated from their children, workers are abused, and communities are suffering the loss of residents, wage earners and consumers. These consequences of immigration enforcement hurt us all.
At about 10 am on May 12, 2008, approximately 900 immigration agents, supported by two helicopters, descended on the community of 2200 residents to raid the Agriprocessors meat packing plant. The disruption to the community at large has been likened to that of a natural disaster. In a matter of hours, nearly 20% of the town’s population was arrested and hundreds of families were separated, deprived of caregivers and bread winners. Hundreds were in need of emergency assistance.
Following the raid, people of all faiths came from the surrounding communities to volunteer at St. Bridget’s which had become the center for the relief effort. Calls offering services and financial support from individuals, congregations and organizations came from across the country. The hundreds in need have now dwindled to dozens, but the volunteers at St. Bridget’s are still serving meals, providing help with immigration paperwork, and securing counseling for the trauma caused by the raid.
The raid cost the government $5.2 million as a part of “Operation Return to Sender” which was designed to apprehend dangerous criminals such as drug dealers and gang members. However, only 5 of the 390 people, who were taken into custody that day, had any kind of a criminal record. The owners and operators of the plant, on the other hand, had been known to underpay workers, fail to pay overtime and employ child labor, but the Iowa Attorney General is now having difficulty prosecuting charges of child labor law violations because witnesses have been deported or they are afraid to testify.
A year later the suffering continues for the entire community. Well over 10% of Postville’s population has been deported. Others have moved away. The community is plagued with empty apartments, and shuttered businesses.
There are many lessons to be learned from Postville not the least of these are the importance of family unity, the consequences of dividing our communities, and the meaning of loving one’s neighbors.