Federal agents arrested 389 illegal workers at a kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors, Inc., in Postville last year. In the ensuing months, the town’s mayor, Robert Penrod, has resigned, the overall economy is suffering, and the town’s population has dropped.
Each of the faith leaders strongly urged public support for immigration reform in the United States. They somberly spoke of the impacts on their communities of the immigration raids and the regulations they considered unfair.
One was Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church in Postville.
“A terrible thing has happened to our country,” said Sister McCauley recounting that day. The immigration raids have been “the most challenging and the most traumatic,” she said, citing tangible economic and emotional impacts on Postville.
She and other immigration reform supporters within the Postville community have been fighting for a year to bring change to the immigration policies in the United States. The effort has been too little avail, according to Paul Rael, the director of Hispanic ministries at St. Bridget’s.
“You would think things would be better in Postville by now, they are not,” he said.
Though the growing economic pressures of the United States are daily becoming more widespread and apparent, the damage the immigration raids in Postville have left behind are even more visible, according Rael. “If you want to see what a real poor economy is, take a drive through Postville.”
Father Mark Fallon of Catholic Social Services in New Bedford, Mass., offered his support to the immigration reform movement, and acknowledged the lack of immigration policies within his own community. Much like the raids in Postville, New Bedford suffered the consequences of 361 detained workers in 2007.
“These workers are making substantial and real contributions to the United States,” said Father Fallon. The penalty New Bedford is facing, according to Fallon, is a “ruptured community bond.”
Mark Lauristen, international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union stated that the current “injustice” immigrants are facing will be marked in U.S. history as “one of our nation’s darkest periods.” Lauristen called on citizens to “bring an end to the cycle of exploitation” and encouraged the establishment of a comprehensive immigration reform.
However, according the Lauristen, all is not lost.
Through the recent immigration-related traumas, Lauristen believes that the United States has “an opportunity to chart a new course.”
Participants in the press conference were optimistic about the regulation of new immigration policies by the administration of President Barack Obama. They called for a clear and fair path of citizenship, and a successful movement toward immigration reform as soon as possible.
“In the mean time, we cannot tolerate any type of racial profiling,” said Lauri Lowell, the director for the Jewish Community Relations Council in New Haven. “This is a very dangerous path to go down.”
Though the raids of a year ago have certainly been a discouragement to advocates for immigration reform, they are optimistic that more concise immigration policies are possible. Lauristen encouraged listeners to remain positive.
“Out of all of this we need to work very hard to be an incubator for the American dream,” said Lauristen.