A project of the Center for Community Change

First-hand Account of Injustice in Postville

Earlier today the folks at FIRM had the opportunity to talk to Shuya Ohno, the community director at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Ohno was in Postville, Iowa the day of the dramatic ICE raid on the Agriprocessor meat packing plant.

His account of the details is horrific. Ohno, who was also present during last years raids in New Bedford, Massachusetts , said he thought he knew what to expect from an ICE raid. But what he saw, he could have never anticipated.

Ohno describes the scene of the raid as the:

Worst institutionalization of injustice and racism I’ve ever seen in my life. It was hard to believe this was happening in America.

Ohno goes on to say that the majority of the close to 400 people arrested during the raid were Guatemalan, and were from that country’s indigenous population. The indigenous people of Guatemala have been hit especially hard by a repressive government, guerilla warfare (during a Civil War that only ended in 1996) and gang violence. Many of the workers arrested in Iowa fled to the United States to escape the violent and desperate conditions of their homeland.

These were hard-working people, full of hope for a better future and striving towards the “American Dream”. But most of the people arrested in the May 12th raid had come face-to-face with the dark side of that dream.

Ohno describes workers as young as 16 who cut cows in half through the night, using highly dangerous equipment. He describes the abismal wages, the 15 hour shifts and the various allegations of abuse on the job. Workers have reported being beaten, blindfolded, threatened at gunpoint and even stabbed with meat hooks.

But when ICE came to town, who suffered? Better said, who continued to suffer? Who continued to be exploited? Here’s a hint – its not the owners of the Agriprocessor plant (who by all accounts had cultivated a culture of near slave labor in this small heartland town).

Ohno goes on to say that, unlike the New Bedford raids, the raid in Postville denied the workers due process of the law. In the legal battle following the New Bedford raids, immigrants could appeal to the court for a hearing to qualify for asylum or they could be deported for violation of civil immigration law.

However, Ohno says, the game has changed. ICE has begun to operate by trying those arrested during raids under federal criminal law. The majority are accused of identity fraud. Ohno is quick to point out that identity fraud is the appropriating of another person’s identity with the intention of stealing money and/or assets from that person, not working to keep food on the table, support your family and pay taxes under that identity.

The most chilling point Ohno makes is that after the New Bedford raids (where half of the 361 workers arrested were deported), at least two of the workers who were deported died upon returning to their native country. These deaths were the direct result of deportation. However, at that time ICE was still prosecuting under civil law, so one woman was able to prove her status as an asylee. Because of her right to due process, she proved, in front of a judge, that her life would be in immediate danger if she were to be deported.

None of the workers from Postville have that chance. Because of the federal criminal charge of identity fraud, these workers are afforded no due process under the law and have absolutely no agency to make their voices heard.

As Ohno said, he can “only imagine with 400 people, how many of those deported will die.”

Ohno noted that, regardless of how powerless you might feel in the face of this extreme injustice, there are ways to help.

  1. Donate money to the families affected by the raid. There are still families, including women and children, who are left behind to fend for themselves. Help them put food on the table. You can send money to St. Bridget’s Hispanic Ministry, PO Box 369. Postville, IA 52162..
  2. Call your congressman, call your governor, call your state representative. Heck, call the Prez himself. Let them know that you want an end to the inhumane and un-American raids!
  3. Talk about it. Talk to your friends, your family, your co-workers. Talk to whoever will listen. This is an ugly issue, but we must face it. The first step is to create a dialogue. SPEAK OUT!

You can click here to listen to the entire interview with Shuya Ohno.

 

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