Saturday, December 13, 2008
Mary Nevans-Pederson, TH staff writer, reports:
POSTVILLE, Iowa -- Postville church leaders are calling on federal lawmakers, Iowa political leaders and the new administration to learn lessons from their traumatic experiences.
During a national telephone press conference Wednesday sponsored by Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the Lutheran and Catholic figures, along with two Latino women who had been caught up in the raid, described how Postville has changed from a vibrant, multicultural community to a chaotic and fearful town following the massive May 12 immigration raid on a kosher meat-packing plant.
They described the social and economic devastation to their town.
"We've called on Congress to send a bipartisan group here, but they need to come quickly," as many of the affected immigrant workers and their families are leaving the area, said the Rev. Steve Brackett, pastor of Postville's St. Paul Lutheran Church.
"Postville is an incredible example of the aftermath and effects" of the irreparable damage an immigration raid can do to a town, he said. The U.S. senators from Iowa, Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, should visit Postville to find out firsthand what has happened there, he said, promising that "We will not yell or scream at them."
The Rev. David Vasquez was less charitable about the federal actions. The Luther College campus pastor called Postville "the whipping boy" of the government's "misguided immigration policies," with a raid set up to serve as an example to other industries that employ immigrants.
The group called for an end to "military-type raids" and for formal humanitarian relief for the families left jobless after the raid, which removed nearly 400 workers from the Agriprocessors plant. The plant closed for a time and is now operating at limited capacity.
"We are drained and worn out. There are no (non-governmental organizations) to help in rural communities. There are only the churches," which have been overwhelmed with requests for help since the raid, said Vasquez, a native of Guatemala.
Postville's churches -- Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterian -- still are supporting hundreds of affected workers, including a handful of Jewish families who also have received aid from Jewish congregations around the country. Several fledgling evangelical churches closed after the raid because their members left town.
The clerics cited biblical references that mandate kindness and support toward immigrants.
"You shall love the stranger as yourself," quoted Brackett from Leviticus.