"Charity is commendable, everyone should be charitable. But Justice aims to create a social order in which, if individuals choose not to be charitable, people still don't go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth, justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance.
Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table"
~Bill Moyers

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Postville One Year Later: A Day of Remembrance and Action

FROM: Standing FIRM
May 11, 2009

Tomorrow, May 12th, marks the one year anniversary of the devastating ICE raid at Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. That day, hundreds of ICE agents descended on the small Iowa town. They brought helicopters, they brought buses and they brought a show of force that would rival any big-budget action flick this summer. Almost 400 workers were arrested and herded like cattle through a “fast-track” version of the American judicial system.

At the time, it was the largest workplace raid in history – sort of mind-blowing to think that since then the raid in Laurel, Mississippi has actually surpassed that number with over 600 people arrested. Postville quickly became symbolic of everything that was wrong with our country’s approach to immigration enforcement, immigration policy, human rights and civil rights. Families were separated, an entire community was destroyed and a small church, St. Bridget’s, was left to deal with the aftermath.
Across the country, communities will hold days of remembrance, will ring bells at 10 AM (the time the raid began) and will don red ribbons in solidarity with the Postville community.

For more information, and to find an action near you, visit the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.


After Postville raid, Guatemalan town is hurting

SAN JOSE CALDERAS, Guatemala -- Here was Angela Noemi Pastor's blueprint for prosperity: She borrowed $12,000 to cross the U.S. border illegally with three of her children, a crossing that posed many risks. Her payoff was a job making less than $7 an hour in rural Iowa.

On paper, it sounds like a questionable business plan. Except it was a formula that meant prosperity to many in this village, the main source of labor for the Agriprocessors Inc. meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa.

The pipeline -- workers going north, money flowing south -- ended when U.S. Immigration agents raided the plant a year ago and deported hundreds of illegal workers, including Pastor.

"Thank God we were able to work a little bit," Pastor said. "But with a little bit more time, we could have done even more."

As with Pastor, the raid has brought the bitterness of dashed dreams to this cloistered community of 3,800, which lies up a winding gravel road dotted with peach orchards.

Men -- including several who were deported -- loiter outside straw shacks as they wait for odd jobs as farmhands. A handful of general stores, which once buzzed with daily commerce, are quiet. Several of the newer, concrete homes display "For Sale" signs for neighboring plots of land.

Here and elsewhere across Latin America, workers are out of jobs because of tougher U.S. Immigration enforcement and a downturn in the American economy, according to experts. That means a dwindling of remittances sent back home, a development that holds deep implications for a region dependent on money from illegal workers.

According to 2008 data, remittances to Latin America declined in real terms for the first time since accurate data has been kept. The Inter-American Development Bank forecasts even greater declines for 2009.

The trend likely will place even greater pressure on Guatemala and other countries battling epidemics of crime. With employment opportunities bleak, out-of-work young men are prime candidates to fall into illicit activities in a country that is a key crossroads for illegal drugs into the U.S., according to local residents and experts.

While supporters of tougher Immigration enforcement warn of the harm that illegal Immigration may cause in the U.S., American officials and international development experts worry that America's security also could suffer if pockets of poverty and instability grow in Latin America.

The drop in remittances has been especially harsh in Guatemala, which relies on the cash for an estimated 12 percent of its gross domestic product. Guatemala took in about $4.3 billion in remittances last year.

The seeds of hardship already are beginning to sprout in San Jose.

The town is a bumpy 45-minute ride from the cobblestone streets of tourist hot spot Antigua, but the espresso bars and Internet cafes there seem a world away.

Even in their isolation, San Jose residents used to eke out livings by growing vegetables that were exported throughout Central America, lifelong resident Mario Junech said. But soon, mostly because of overfarming, the fields lost their fertility and the markets closed. About a decade ago, the first residents found their way to Postville, followed by a typical chain of others.

Junech worked at the Postville plant, where he came to love the small-town friendliness that reminded him of home as well as new treats, such as Chinese buffets and Mexican taquerias.

Junech came back to San Jose about four years ago after working long enough to pay off his "coyote," who smuggled him north. Once home, he built a small house and an attached general store.

Junech could make a living in San Jose by selling milk, detergent and other staples to townspeople flush with cash from the north. Since the Iowa raid, his business is down about 50 percent.

His teenage son was among those deported from Postville, having tried to follow in father's footsteps. The son was away for a few days working in the countryside, where he makes $7 a day, about the same as an hour's wage in Postville.

The country's unrest is already hitting San Jose as residents complain of a crime wave that makes it unsafe to go out at night. Even worse, kidnappers are targeting returning immigrants, assuming they have more money than the typical resident, villagers say.

"How are you going to compare life in the United States to what a family finds here?" Junech said. "If God allows it, maybe one day we will return."


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