Religious leaders in Postville are calling for a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers to visit the city to see what’s happened since the immigration raid at the Agriprocessers plant in May. Some 400 workers were arrested in the raid. The director of Hispanic Ministry at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, David Rael says there are several groups of people involved.
One group includes about 100 people made up of women whose husbands went back to Mexico or Guatemala after the raid, and their children. He says the second group is made up of witnesses who have returned to testify in the trials, about 40 who have monitoring devices on them. Rael says they’ve returned and gotten work permits, but have not been able to find jobs as they wait to testify, and are depending on the community.
Rael says there are others who have returned to the community after the raid. Rael says that’s a huge group of people, and many have returned to areas where they came from or found other jobs, but during the summer and the period of transition, had to have community support. He says a fourth group includes longstanding residents who live in Postville who have been affected economically, emotionally and socially by the events at the plant.
The state provided block grant money for Postville, but Reverend Steve Brackett of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church says there are strings attached to those funds. "One of the difficulties that we have with that money is it can only be used by U.S. citizens," Brackett says. He says that money has helped some who lost their jobs or stopped working when the plant stopped production. Brackett says the money can only be used for rent and utilities, so they churches have still had to provide rent and utilities.
Reverend David Vasquez is the campus pastor at Luther College in Decorah, but was assigned to help in Postville after the raid.
Vasquez says one of the reasons they continue calling for people to come and visit Postville is it "tells the story clearly about the impact of immigration raids and a broken immigration system, where it cannot be hidden." Vasquez says its hard to try and get out their message while dealing with all the problems they face each day.
"You know, basically we are drained and we are worn out, so it makes it hard to dedicate a lot of energy and time to get the word out, and it’s a very complicated issue, so that’s why we need the attention of those elected officials who are responsible for understanding this." Vasquez says. The church leaders spoke with reporters today in a conference call.