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Howard Industries

Postville: 5 Months Later

Today, CNN ran its first of two articles discussing immigration in “Middle America”. Today’s installment catches up with the town of Postville, Iowa, five months after what was the largest immigration raid in history.

It’s a town that’s been turned “topsy turvy,” Mayor Bob Penrod says, since hundreds of heavily armed federal immigration agents swooped in a few months ago and raided its main employer, Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant.

“It makes a person feel kind of angry,” Penrod says. “It’s been nothing but a freaky nightmare since May.”

Since the raid in Postville, large-scale ICE raids have become more frequent. In August more than 600 immigrants were arrested in Laurel, Mississippi and just last week more than 300 were arrested in Greenville, South Carolina.

In Postville, CNN visited St. Bridget’s Catholic Church:

 …whose pastor, Father Lloyd Paul Ouderkirk, is both soft-spoken and outspoken. It is his church that became a refuge for the town’s immigrants the day of the raid and the weeks afterward.

“They had attacked this town with a military-style raid — brought in 900 immigration police to arrest 389 people. I mean, what is that other than a military raid on this town?” he says.

Ouderkirk scans his church now, the sun beaming through stained-glass windows. “Can you just imagine all these pews here full of people, sleeping 300-400 people a night?”

Many residents in Postville are still reeling from the affects of the raid. The town’s crime rate has gone up, local businesses are hurting and tensions are running high.

Residents feel like the town was “made an example of”. One resident, Brian Gravel, the principal of Postville High School noted that, “Picking on a town of 2,500 people in northeast Iowa is not my idea of a naturalization or immigration policy.” Postville, like so many other communities torn apart by ICE have become symbolic sacrifices, a way for the current administration to seem like it is “doing something” about immigration. But if Postville is any indication, the raids are acheiving little except the destruction of communities, families and businesses.

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VICTORY in MS!: Howard Employees Receive Paychecks

After protests and pressure from immigrants’ rights organization MIRA (Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance), Howard Industries will release the last paychecks of the employees arrested in the August 25th ICE Raid on Howard Industries in Laurel, MS.

Advocates and family members have been fighting for Howard to release the paychecks since the raid last month. Many of the families left in the aftermath of the raid are desperate for financial support, with no way to earn money while waiting for their trials and the trials of loved ones.

The release of the paychecks is a huge victory.

MIRA announced that the organization would pick up the checks at a meeting in Laurel Sunday afternoon (9/21). By 7 p.m. Monday(9/22), approximately 500 vehicles were parked outside of MIRA’s regular meeting venue in Laurel.

“People were flocking,” said Elvis Cintra, an MIRA employee. “I had to tell them to go home tonight because I don’t have the checks in my hand. They are desperate.”

MIRA will have to process and verify each check before it is disbursed to the appropriate families.

In the mean time, advocates and allies will continue to fight for the rights of immigrants facing criminalization in ICE raids.

For now, I hope they enjoy this victory!



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Update: Mississippi Raid, the Real Story

I have been posting on the hyped up racial tensions the media is using to frame the story of the recent ICE Raid at Howard Industries in Laurel Mississippi. Many stories went so far as to claim that African-American workers applauded as Latino immigrants were lined up by race, handcuffed and shuffled out of the plant.

Yesterday, Truthout.org published an article countering the idea of racial divisions at the company. You should read the full article but here is a noteworthy excerpt:

Meanwhile, […]labor and community activists say media coverage of the raid has heightened racial tensions. Newspaper stories have painted a picture of a plant in which African-American and white union members were hostile to immigrants, based mostly on an incident in which some workers “applauded” as their coworkers were taken away by ICE agents. This simplistic picture obscures the real conditions in the plant, activists say, and the role the company itself played in fomenting divisions among workers.

    According to Clarence Larkin, African-American president of IBEW Local 1317, the union at the plant, “this employer pits workers against each other by design, and breeds division among them that affects everyone,” he says. “By favoring one worker over another, workers sometimes can’t see who their real enemy is. And that’s what helps keep wages low.”

    Workers at Howard Industries, however, do not simply look at each other as enemies across race lines. On August 28, Cintra led a group of women fired in the raid to the plant to demand their pay, after the company denied them paychecks. Managers called Laurel police. “They tried to intimidate us with 10 vehicles of police and sheriffs. They tried to arrest me and make us leave.” After workers began chanting, “Let her go!” and news reporters appeared on the scene, the company finally agreed to distribute checks to about 70 people.

    The following day, Cintra and the women returned to the plant to get paychecks for other unpaid workers. They sat on the grass across the street from the factory in a silent protest. “When the shift changed, African-American workers started coming out and they went up to these Latina women and began hugging them. They said things like, “We’re with you. Do you need any food for your kids? How can we help? You need to assert your rights. We’re glad you’re here. We’ll support you.’ There’s a lot of support inside the factory for these workers who were caught up in the raid.”

    Meanwhile, the union has been in negotiations with the company since its contract expired at the beginning of August. In preparation for those negotiations, the IBEW brought in a Spanish-speaking organizer, Maria Gonzalez, to recruit immigrant workers into the union. She visited people at home to help explain the benefits of belonging. Larkin says many immigrant workers joined, complaining of bad treatment. “Supervisors yell at people a lot,” he says, “not just immigrants, but at everyone. Howard has always been an anti-employee company, and treats workers with no respect, as though they make no contribution to its success.”

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