Vigil marks second anniversary of raid
By MARY STEGMEIR • Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Most of the workers detained have since been deported, but for the roughly 30 people in attendance, the fight continues.
"It's important not to forget because we're all humans and we're all in the same world," Armando Gomez said following the gathering at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Waterloo. "God would like us to be working together and not hating each other."
On May 12, 2008, federal agents arrested 389 illegal immigrants at now-bankrupt Agriprocessors' Postville kosher meat processing plant. Plant operations have now been taken over by a separate company, Agri Star Meat and Poultry. The majority of those detained in the raid were from Guatemala and Mexico and had left their homes to escape poverty.
After the raid, Gomez and his wife, Vanessa, opened their home to immigrants displaced by the raid. One of the families seeking shelter was traveling with a month-old child.
"I have a little girl, and to think of that poor baby ..." he said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I think about those people all the time. I pray for them."
The incident still looms large in the mind of Cedar Valley residents. The state's child labor case against Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin continues today at the Black Hawk County courthouse. In November, a federal jury convicted the former CEO of 86 federal counts of financial fraud.
Two years later, the raid is still frequently cited by immigration reform advocates as an example of the need for policy changes. The Postville economy collapsed in the wake of the incident, and lawyers for the undocumented workers say their clients were denied proper legal counsel in the days following their arrest.
"We're here seeking justice and an end to the prejudicial system that we have now for immigration," said Carlos Ledesma, president of the Waterloo Latin American group. "Why do people have to wait 10 years to get a visa when you can walk across the border with a passport?"
The prayer service was sponsored by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Task Force of Northeast Iowa. Attendees recited psalms and sang hymns in both English and Spanish during the gathering.
"The history of the world is a history of migration," Sister Kathleen Grace told the crowd. " ... It is history of the powerless seeking better opportunities. It is a history of families searching for a way to survive."