Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge says there’s concern the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville will close. "At this point I think it’s just very uncertain," Judge says. "As the governor said…we do not in any way at any time condone illegal activities and if that was going on in that plant, it needs to be stopped. On the other hand we also have families there that will be impacted, who are lawful residents who today do not have a place to go to work so that is a concern and we’ll continue to try to work through it."
The governor asked Judge to head the state response to Monday’s federal raid at Agriprocessors in Postville where nearly 400 people were arrested on immigration and identity theft charges. Agriprocessors is the largest employer in Postville. "It’s such an interesting, diverse community in Iowa. Of course, it has been for a long time. They’ve even had books written about it," Judge says, "but Postville always found ways to make things work and I’m sure that resiliency will be there and they’ll do that again."
The owners of the meatpacking plant are Hasidic Jews and the facility is the nation’s largest processor of kosher meats, marketing beef, chicken, veal and lamb. Federal agents say citizens from Guatemala and Mexico as well as a handful from Israel and Ukraine were arrested in Monday’s immigration raid at the plant.
There was activity at the plant on Tuesday, but no one on site would confirm whether it was open and slaughtering animals. According to Judge, the plant’s owners have not talked with any state officials about their plans. Judge says she wants to assure Postville residents that the state will do what it can to help. "It is going to be difficult for them to pick up the pieces if the plant is dark for very long," Judge says.
An immigration lawyer in Des Moines says the raid in Postville has set off a panic among immigrants elsewhere. Lori Chesser says there are a number of reasons for their concerns. "You know, there are people who are here legally, but have family members who might not be," she says. "There may be people who in the midst of going through an immigration process but might not have a secure status yet that are concerned."
Chesser says after the raid at the Swift packing plant in Marshalltown in 2006, Hispanics in Iowa faced more discrimination. "It raised the level of suspicion among the general population about people who are Hispanic or who look foreign," Chesser says. "I’ve heard several times since 2006 more reports of more discrimination, of more hateful comments, things like that."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, condemning the haste of federal authorities in charging Guatemalans who worked at the Postville plant. Ben Stone, the Iowa chapter’s executive director, says many of the foreign-born workers detained in the raid are being "coerced" into waiving some of their rights and haven’t been given ample time to meet with an attorney. In addition, Stone says some of the defense attorneys on site are representing "far more clients than is advisable, or perhaps even ethical."
Almost 314 men arrested in the raid have been detained on the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo and makeshift courtrooms on-site were set up for their initial court hearings.