Sunday’s march through Postville by more than a thousand people capped two days of rallies and counter-protests in the northeast Iowa community. Hundreds of marchers were bused in from Chicago and the Twin Cities who opposed the treatment of workers during the May immigration raid at Postville’s meatpacking plant.
Postville Mayor Robert Penrod addressed members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Saturday. Mayor Penrod says the raids, which saw some 400 arrests, have deeply hurt the community. Penrod says, "We’re just back starting over, back 15 years because everything is new again and it’s just like starting over from scratch." He says new workers have been brought in by the hundreds and the raid tore families apart, families who had a stake in making Postville succeed with its blend of many cultures.
The mayor says: "They were part of our family. They had established themselves as families in this community and everything was at an even keel and everything was working smooth, and that was a plus for us. Our law enforcement were more relaxed, we didn’t have too much to worry about. Everybody was doing what they should do and then after the raid, everything just went out the door."
He says the community’s budget is also taking a hit since the federal agents surrounded the Agriprocessors plant in May. Penrod says the costs have gone up substantially, as some incidents are costing the police department $3,000 per incident. Another speaker was Father Richard Gall, the sacramental priest for St. Bridget’s Church in Postville.
Father Gall says the federal immigration raid and the impact it had on the community just made him physically ill. "Because I’ve had two heart surgeries and two heart attacks, I could not handle it," Gall says. "I told Sister, I’m going back to the other parishes and work with those people and I will make my presence known as much as I could." Gall says he can’t understand why so little compassion was and is being shown to those who are hurting.
"There are nights I cry," he says. "It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s immoral. It’s evil." Gall says the community has turned a corner since the raid, with a radical uptick in crime, and even the food bank now is continually running out of food. Gall says, "I thought we were beginning to have some unity. That day destroyed it. I thought we were a nation in oneness under God, with liberty and justice for all."
The small St. Bridget’s Church was the rallying point for the weekend’s events, as hundreds of people gathered there to stage their protests inside or on the lawn. In downtown Postville, the marchers were met with some who opposed their views. Residents dressed in patriotic colors and held signs denouncing those who committed crimes like identity theft or who were in the country illegally. One woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty held a torch aloft in one hand and a sign in the other that read: "Save the American Worker."