Saturday, January 24, 2009

Delegation to Postville on December 2, 2008

Summary from Rev. Mike Mulberry

December 2, 2008

I guess what I believed going into the experience was that the Postville event was effectively over. Though May 12 was a terrible day and left the community in ruins, most of the pain experienced was lodged in the events in that day. What we experienced was much different.

We met first with a group of Guatemalan women and one man who were working on getting their GED and would later be going to English classes. That provided a backdrop for our discussions with Father Paul.

Father Paul and the coordinator for Hispanic Ministries, Paul Rael, both of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church shared with us the incredible suffering going on presently in the community. Women who were not deported because they have children are wearing ankle bracelets with GPS tracking chips. The women are not allowed to work, never seem to get any reliable information on what happens next, and are kept around for the trial to testify to Agriprocessors breaking over 9,000 child labor law provisions. They are going to take a legal angle he swore us to secrecy on so we'll bring you up to speed on that. Father Paul was clearly angry for the way these immigrant people had been treated. They have to ask permission to do everything or go anywhere and now their probation officer is refusing to answer the phone when they try to call him. The people have asked to voluntarily deport themselves but the government won't allow it.

The raid was clearly planned years in advance as a county fairgrounds’animal pen was reserved to keep the people who were detained.

Postville is at a breaking point. The Jewish community does not know how to reach out (feeling both ashamed and abiding by their identity to be separate) and those in the immigrant community are hamstrung by the limbo the government is putting them through. When I handed Father Paul the check from IMM, he broke down sobbing in my arms...thanking us.

Over lunch we met with a Presbyterian pastor who shared with us how hard the immigrant community worked in town. All they wanted to do was work. He would have gladly given them his social security number if they had asked. He shared that closing down Agriprocessors has been devastating to the community. The community lost its largest employer, local producers that have grown up around the plant have no processor, and he had a Jewish friend he could call that would have Agriprocessors fill the local food pantry with meat when they ran out. That is no longer possible. Resources are exhausted. People are exhausted.

We traveled to Decorah to meet with the local UCC pastor. Decorah took on some of the burden because Postville just could not handle any more need. A local Lutheran congregant is allowing 6 Guatemalan men to use a house. The Catholic parish house is providing lodging for three others (across the street from one another). The UCC pastor shared with us how Agriprocessors used a local Palauan man to recruit from 25-30 people from the south Pacific Island. Now that the plant has shut down, they are stranded.

We went to the home where the Guatemalan men (and one Mexican man) were staying. Two or three men told us their story. These men have been brought back for the trial and all wear ankle bracelets. Because the government does not allow them to work, people of Decorah are paying them in cash for odd jobs so that they can have some money and send some back to their families. Particularly heart breaking was the story of their detention in about six or seven U.S. prisons. They were moved around, fed very little, and sometimes put into a cold cell with only a t-shirt. Such stories had us thinking about what the men remaining in prison are going through. This man cried as he related that he had not been able to talk to his wife or sons for six months.

As we were about to leave, a young woman from Luther College came to talk to us. She said the situation is very dire with the women. She is worried about how depressed the women are getting and what they might do in the future with such depression. They cannot go anywhere, do anything, and their children cry at night for fathers who are no longer there

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