Iowa marchers say No more raids!
1,500 rally for immigrant workers rights
Some 1,500 demonstrators in Postville, Iowa, marched July 27 to protest a raid that rounded up nearly 400 workers at the nearby Agriprocessors meatpacking plant.
BY FRANK FORRESTAL
POSTVILLE, IowaChanting Sí se puede! (Yes we can) No more raids! about 1,500 people marched through the streets of this small farm town July 27 in support of workers arrested in the May 12 immigration raid of Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant.
The march was led by several workers wearing GPS tracking bracelets on their ankles. Forty-five of those arrested in the raid were given conditional release for humanitarian reasons and required to wear the bracelets. They are not allowed to travel out of state or work pending upcoming court hearings.
Pedro, who worked at Agriprocessors for three years and did not want his last name used, said his wife was arrested in the raid and was given a five-month prison sentence. This protest is very important, especially for the Agriprocessors workers in jail. It shows that there is support.
The raid by as many as 500 cops led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents was the largest immigration raid of a single plant in U.S. history. Close to 400 workers were detained, with 302 charged with criminal offenses. The use of mass criminal charges represents a deepening assault on the rights of undocumented workers.
The march and rally was called by St. Bridgets Catholic Church in Postville and Jewish organizations in Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota. Busloads of protesters came from Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin. Six vanloads drove up from Des Moines, Iowa, while many others came from other parts of the state.
Roselina Ramírez, who was picked up in the raid and later released pending a deportation hearing, worked a knife job cutting out chicken breasts for three years. She said there were many injuries and abuses by the Agriprocessors bosses. She never made more than $7.25 an hour. Many workers were trying to improve their conditions by unionizing but the company intimidated workers by threatening to fire them, said Ramírez.
Juanita López, 20, has not talked to her mother, one of those arrested, since the day of the raid. They make it very difficult for us to communicate with her on the phone, said López. Her mother is being held in Leavenworth, Kansas. López said a large group of minors worked in the plant. According to a fact book distributed by St. Bridgets to the press, at least 17 minors ranging from 14 to 17 years old were detained and later released.
Farm activist Randy Jasper, whose farm is about one hour from Postville, said this was the first time he had marched against deportations. I was impressed by the number of people that came to the protest from nearby towns, said Jasper. Many of the bystanders waved in support, while others seemed neutral, he said.
Near St. Bridgets, where the protest began, more than 100 counterprotesters demonstrated in support of the ICE raid. While carrying signs that read Deport Illegals, Secure U.S. Borders, and American Workers in American Jobs, they chanted patriotic and anti-immigrant slogans such as USA, USA, USA and More raids, more raids. The rightist protest was organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a national anti-immigrant outfit.
Our aim is to demonstrate public support for vigorous prosecution of employers who, in addition to violating laws against hiring illegal aliens, engage in other sorts of reprehensible and criminal activities, said a July 24 FAIR press release. Those who exploit illegal labor and impose burdens on American taxpayers should be sent to prison.
Jennifer Powell and her sister Lisa LaBrec, both in their early twenties, are U.S.-born workers who joined the protest. I opposed the raids here when they happened. Immigrants should have the same rights as us, said Powell, whose husband is from Mexico. LaBrec added, I am against raids wherever they take place, not just in Postville.
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