More than two dozen Guatemalans are scheduled to arrive soon in Postville, where they will join relatives who helped investigators after a 2008 immigration raid. Most of the newcomers are children whose mothers used to work at Postville's Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. A few are the siblings or parents of former child workers.
Guatemalan relatives to join Postville Agriprocessors workers
By TONY LEYS • Des Moines Register
More than two dozen Guatemalans are scheduled to arrive soon in Postville, where they will join relatives who helped investigators after a 2008 immigration raid.
Most of the newcomers are children whose mothers used to work at Postville's Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. A few are the siblings or parents of former child workers.
Sonia Parras Konrad, a Des Moines immigration lawyer who represents many of the families, said 28 Guatemalans are expected to arrive in the northeast Iowa town Dec. 4. She said most are the children of women who obtained "U-visas" for cooperating with investigators. The women had to demonstrate they were victims of crimes, such as sexual assaults, that left them with serious physical or mental injuries.
A U-visa allows an immigrant to stay in the United States four years and to seek a longer stay if the immigrant can show returning to her home country would seriously harm herself and a child who is a U.S. citizen, Parras Konrad said. "It is very complicated and hard to get," she said.
The Postville immigration raid was one of the largest ever at a single U.S. plant. Hundreds of immigrant workers, mainly Guatemalans and Mexicans, were arrested on identity-theft charges for using false immigration papers. Most of them pleaded guilty to reduced charges, served five months in prison, then were deported. But more than 40 were granted U-visas for cooperating with investigators.
Decorah-area churches helped raise money for loans for airfare from Guatemala to Chicago. The churches also arranged for a bus to carry the immigrants from Chicago to Postville.
David Vasquez, a Luther College pastor who has helped organize assistance for the workers, said many of the women have not seen their children in years. "Now they have the opportunity to live out their dreams and support their families," he said.
Vasquez said that when the raid happened, he could not have predicted a good outcome for any of the former Agriprocessors workers. Most were hustled through mass court proceedings, in which they were pressured into pleading guilty, he said. "An essential piece of our law is that individual cases be looked at individually."
Parras Konrad persuaded authorities to look more carefully at some of the cases, he said, and the authorities decided the immigrants deserved to stay.
Parras Konrad said most of the women still live in Postville and hope to become U.S. citizens. They work in various jobs, including housecleaning and child care. A few have returned to the packing plant, now under new ownership and called Agri Star.
Parras Konrad said the women were routinely mistreated under the old owners. "They have seen a huge difference in before and after," she said. For example, she said, the women now receive meal breaks and may stay home if they're sick.