Postville residents pray for healing, peace
Janell Bradley, Gazette Online
From the first sight of the helicopters that announced it, the May 12, 2008, raid on Agriprocessors Inc. tore apart the small town of Postville. But it also galvanized residents into a force for immigration reform that gave a full-throated cry Tuesday.
Sounding the symbol of the ram’s horn that led the Israelites, Rabbi Darryl Crystal, interim rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel of Chicago, said: “May the sounding of this shofar inspire us to work as one on this day to bring God’s blessings of healing, freedom and joy.”
A crowd of 300 people in St. Bridget’s Catholic Church and gathered on the lawns outside listened to the stories of two illegal immigrants who worked at the kosher slaughterhouse.
Jaime, a Guatemalan man with four daughters from 3 to 16, came to the United States to work so he could pay for the medicine needed by one of his daughters who is going blind.
“I am here in Postville trying to put the pieces of my life back together and hoping President (Barack) Obama will fulfill his promise of working for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said in Spanish. “May 12, 2008, my life fell apart, along with my dreams.”
Genesis said she walked through sewer water up to her neck to cross the border into the United States to find a job to pay for medication for her son, who has asthma.
She remembered how denigrated she felt when one of the Agriprocessors supervisors said he would give her the money to buy tight pants and low-cut blouses “so I could wear them for him to see me,” she said.
“Now here I am in Postville, unable to work. I’m not with my son, and I’m just hoping, with the help of God and friends in Postville, I will be able to help my precious son,” she said.
Immigration reform advocates marked the anniversary with a church bell ringing at 10 a.m., the prayer service where Jaime and Genesis spoike and a vigil and remembrance at 4 p.m. at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, where many of the Latino immigrants stayed after the raid.
Some 389 workers were arrested and plant supervisors, including former top executive Sholom Rubashkin, were charged. Many workers were deported to their native Guatemala, and the plant is on the block in bankruptcy proceedings.
The Rev. Dr. Steven Ullestad, bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA, spoke of the terror experienced by children on May 12, 2008, and in the days following.
“Our children know what it is to have their own government invade their community, remove their parents or the parents of their friends and leave their families ... without homes or food or a means to make a living,” he said.
“Today we want them to know the promise ... of good news, freedom, comfort, hope.”
In her closing statement, Sister Mary McCauley, who helped so many immigrants after the raid, said, “On May 12, 2008, your hearts may have been broken and you may have felt your hopes were destroyed. But ... you are a people known for your hope and your love.
“Be faithful to who you are.”
And then, as rain clouds gathered overhead and darkness began to fall, a crowd of 750 marched several blocks to Agriprocessors.
Earlier in the day, speakers at a press conference said that despite financial aid from residents of 49 states, the people of Postville continue to rely on the compassion of others to live day to day.
The Rev. Gary Catterson, a Presbyterian minister and president of the city's food shelf board of directors, said that a $700,000 federal grant that helped with rent and utilities for people displaced or unable to work because of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid May 12, 2008, has been nearly depleted.
About 150 residents a week come to the food shelf for help feeding themselves and their families.
"If not for the generosity of so many people across the nation, this would be a much different picture a year later," said the Rev. Stephen Brackett, of the community's Lutheran Church.
Many former Agriprocessors workers were deported to their native Guatemala and the plant is on the block in bankruptcy proceedings.
But more than that, Postville residents say, the raid tore the town apart — decimating the lives of hundreds, plunging landlords and local businesses into near financial ruin and destroying the entire social fabric of society.
Immigration reform advocates marked the year anniversary of the raid today with a church bell ringing at 10 a.m.
At the press conference at Turner Hall, Aaron Goldsmith, representing the Jewish community, said he believes the help from the federal government has been too little, too late.
"All we hear is what they want to prosecute next in Postville," he said. "I'm very puzzled why the government isn't here today."
Approximately $1 million has been donated by individuals and organizations, both locally and from around the country, to support families affected by the raid.
"It's been a collaborative effort of the faith community of Postville and the entire United States," said Sister Mary McCauley. "That's something to be acclaimed and praised."