May 21, 2008
Kosher meat plant raid wreaks widespread havoc
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"They're hiding," the owner said of his missing patrons.
On Monday evening, St. Bridget's Catholic Church remained a hive of activity. Two representatives from the disaster relief unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had come from Chicago, and a number of immigrant workers, union organizers and others had descended on Postville.
Donated foodstuffs sat on a table in the corner as a clutch of aid workers and Latino residents scurried about. A color-coded chart in Spanish held information on the various jails around the state where workers were being held.
"This is such a disaster, man," said David Vasquez, the campus pastor at Luther College in nearby Decorah.
A native of Guatemala himself, Vasquez came to Postville the day of the raid to help the families of the detainees. A week later, he's still at it.
"We tried to get a listing of who was missing, you know, because we didn't know if they were taken, if people were hiding, what happened," Vasquez said. "It felt like some of the images you see after Katrina, where people are just lists on the walls and pictures of people missing. It felt that way because we couldn't find out where they were."
A red-haired woman in a pink shirt approached Vasquez for help contacting her brother-in-law. The man had been detained in the raid, and authorities were telling her he wouldn't have access to a telephone for more than a week, by which time the hearings would be finished.
"What are they trying to accomplish with this?" Vasquez asked. "Shutting down towns that are thriving?"
Aid workers say the attention has shifted from immediate humanitarian relief to providing legal assistance. Some residents have still not been able to locate family members, while others are worried that their friends or relatives will sign plea agreements they do not fully understand.
Under the eight plea agreements approved by the judge Monday morning, defendants waived their right to appeal.
The uncertainty has spread beyond the Latino community. Gabay Menhel, a Lubavitcher who runs a property management company in Postville, hung a sign outside his office Tuesday offering a month's free rent to lure new tenants.
Menhel said he owns 130 units in Postville. Of the 30 he has checked, 20 were empty on Monday. He said no one had taken him up on his special offer.
In Menhel's view, Agriprocessors is innocent of wrongdoing. From a drawer he pulled a photocopy of a tenant's permanent resident card, the same documentation he had likely produced to secure a job at the packing house. Menhel said the man is now in federal custody.
Speaking of Agriprocessors, Menhel said, "If anything in the world, they're the victim."
For its part, Agriprocessors has had little to say publicly. A statement issued last week said the company was cooperating in the federal investigation and expressed sympathy for the hardships endured by its former employees. A press inquiry at the plant Monday afternoon was met with a referral to a public relations agency.
Jeff Abbas, who runs Postville's radio station, worried about the impact of mass deportations on the town.
"We want to keep these folks here," he said. "They've been a vibrant part of the community for a long time. We don't want to lose that.
"If anything happens to Agra," he added, "if it doesn't bounce back, if they close it, we're going to be in a world of hurt."
Christian immigration reform advocates in Postville put this video on YouTube
1 | 2