Families affected by the raid in Postville shared their stories to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Rep. Albino Sires (D-N.J.) and Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), as well as the media and the community in Postville. Out of respect to the pending immigration cases, first names will only be shared. There were few dry eyes in the audience after the first fifteen minutes, as Irma remembered federal agents having guns drawn against her husband with many women scared, screaming about their children or fainting. “I thank God I didn’t see him when they put the chains on him like a criminal,” she said.
Delia said she is hurt of not knowing what is going to happen. Lupita and Delia came to Postville because it was the only place they could find peace. “Congressman be our voice,” Delia told the three congressman in attendance.
There were about 40 women who were arrested and released on humanitarian grounds who were made to wear ankle bracelets after the raid. They said there was sexual abuse at the plant by the supervisors. All of them can’t leave the state, work, or even have a court date scheduled. One attorney, Sonia Parras Konrad, represents half of the women victimized. She is trying to get her clients a U-visa, specifically designed for interim relief. However, it might take until 2009 to get a first hearing. The attorney speculated that of those already in prisons, about half of those were abused. “This is a new era in raids, more than nine immigration lawyers asked to enter because they represented 140 people. Federal agents said we couldn’t see the clients because they were being tried in criminal court. One of the problems with the bracelet is that they can’t work,” Parras Konrad said. Most of the arrested were tried for identity theft.
The women said they come from poor families and that they came here to live in a better place. “God only knows what is going to happen. Kids are fearful of whether they’re staying. It’s an injustice. We’re not criminals, we’re workers! They treat us worse than criminals,” one lady said.
Another lady mentioned that men had been asking her for sex telling her, “You know you can’t work, you know, you need the money.”
An 11 year old girl Marissa, who was born in Elgin, Ill and was a fourth grader at the school, remembered the day as if happened yesterday. She was reading in school and then the principal took all the kids affected by the raid to a different area because immigration had gotten their parents. She was sent to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, where many of the people fled to. “The principal said we couldn’t leave, everyone got real sad. I called my dad at work and he told me not to cry,” she said.
The congressmen were shocked by the testimony of the children who worked at the plant. 15 year old Rosa worked from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m. each day. A 16 year old worked twelve hours at the plant each day. A 17 year old boy said he worked because he needed the money and was arrested after only being in the United States, fifteen days. Wendy, 17 said she worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. All the children are also in removal proceedings. “It was difficult work. My mother wanted me to the first in the family to continue studying. It destroyed my dream,” she said.
The congressman asked the children if their supervisor knew their age. The children said the supervisors did know their age. “We were asked and continued working,” they said. The children were asked if they were paid extra for working overtime. They responded, “No.” They were asked if there were their other children working at the plant? They said, “Many.”
Mayor of Postville, Robert Penrod said things were stable and that the people should stay positive, keeping an open mind that those things will work out. “For the tax base, utility funding, we need Latino people back in Postville. You’re our town; you made a difference in our city. Latinos pay taxes. There’s a lot of restaurants, stores they’re a huge contribution to our community. We don’t want to see businesses downtown close. After the ICE raid, everything has gone up, it costs the city $3,000 an incident (arrest),” he said.
The primary person helping those affected by the raid, Sister Mary McCauley told the congressmen to share these stories to their fellow colleagues in support of comprehensive immigration reform. “What do we want? The whole thing, giving to our people what my people received in 1887. We want just labor practices, family unity, no more raids. Never put any community through the trauma we have experienced,” she said.
Photo by Guillermo Treviño