Speaking out: An organizer's note from Beardstown, IL, site of recent raids

A word  from one of our organizers in the Midwest on the recent raids in Beardstown, IL: "In September of 2003, a busload of volunteers from Illinois took off across the state spreading the word about immigration reform. We did this as part of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a two week event designed to draw the nations attention to our need for real immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the millions of workers who keep our economy running.The second Day, we pulled into Beardstown Illinois.

Beardstown is a hard place to make it. There is the Cargill meat packing plant, there are farms in the surrounding area, and there is little else. Meat Packing is dirty, dangerous work. The pay is ok, if you don't need much, but the work is brutal. Like a lot of places that demand hard work, Beardstown attracts a lot of immigrants. Of the 2000 people in town, about 800 are from Mexico, or the children of people who came from there. The immigrant community is about 10 years old. There are a couple of chuches and some stores that cater to them. But make no mistake, it's a hard life and a lonely one.

When we got there it was late. We had made stops in three other cities that day, and we were tired and hungry. The Pastor of the Church of the Nazerene was waiting for us. He let us in to the church. helped us get settled down. I remember him asking Juan Pablo Chavez to help him move the pulpit so we would have room to spread our sleeping bags. He gave us a blessing and went home. The next day, we awoke to the smell of frijoles and eggs, tortillas and bacon. I don't know if it was that the bacon was fresh or that we were that hungry or what, but when I talk to my fellow freddom riders about Beardstown they always talk about the bacon. "Cooked with love" they say. Bacon from the Cargill plant. Bacon made by immigrant workers and served to us so we could carry on in their name.

I think about that morning constantly now. I think about the women who served it to us and worry about where they are, where their children are, their husbands. I know that even if they weren't rounded up, that they are afraid. I think about a government that uses people like bargaining chips, game pieces.

I think about the fact America is now a place where men with guns can come to people's houses and make them dissapear.

America the beautiful. What has become of that? What has become of the promise that we held out to the world? This creeping violation of American principles is terrifying to me. It is clear now that this struggle is not one just for immigration reform but for the soul of the country.

As Americans, as Patriots, as Citizens, we can no longer allow the government to use terror as a political instrument. Babies in New Bedford, Marshalltown, Beardstown cannot be allowed to scream for their mothers. Mothers cannot be forced to pray for the safe return of their sons, not from war, but from work. This cannot stand.

The raids must be stopped. The law must be changed, and people across our country must be allowed their freedom once more. " - Gabe Gonzalez, Organizer, The Center for Community Change

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