Today marks the first anniversary of the Postville, Iowa, immigration raid where 389 workers were arrested and a small town of less than 3,000 was scarred forever, losing half of its thriving population. (Follow our updates from Postville on Twitter.) Postville profoundly changed how we look at the problem of immigration in our country, and it became a symbol of a broken system and human suffering. Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform first covered the story of the faith community's rapid response last May and have returned to Postville this week to continue telling the stories of horror, heroism, and hope.
On the eve of the anniversary, I had the distinct honor of listening to a lecture by Dr. Eric Camayd Freixas, the court interpreter who wrote a report exposing injustices in the legal proceedings following the raid. Since writing his report which broke last summer in the New York Times, he has returned to Postville twice and has developed strong emotional ties to northern Iowa. His outspoken activism on behalf of the immigrants in Postville and the fight for comprehensive immigration reform hasn't stopped in this country. He visited mountain villages in Guatemala where ex-agriprocessor workers were forced to return to their former lives. He shared photos of Guatemalan homes, fields, and families with the local residents in the audience at Decorah Lutheran Church. "I want you to see where your ex-neighbors came from," he said as he clicked through the slides. He showed an image of a partially constructed church in Guatemala which has not been finished because of the decrease in remittances coming from community members who worked at agriprocessors.
Given incredible access into the detention system, Dr. Camayd Freixas personally interviewed ten ex-agriprocessor workers in a Miami jail. At that stage, the men were principally concerned about the financial and emotional well-being of their families. Most had no contact with their loved ones while waiting to be deported because they couldn't afford to purchase phone cards required to make a long distance call from jail. The men also grappled with their loss of dignity, remarking how devastating it was for them to work so hard and to be labeled a thief because they were working with social security numbers supplied to them by the plant management.
Through his speaking engagements, congressional testimonies, and intensive academic research, Dr. Camayd-Freixas refuses to let people forget what happened to the people and the town of Postville. Today, hundreds of us will gather for a prayer vigil at St. Bridget's Catholic Church and hear the names of the 389 arrested read aloud. It is a reminder to those who were deported and separated from their loved ones that they are not forgotten here. It is a reminder to the rest of us that the broken system which created the Postville raid is not just a political issue or a policy prescription but about real people, real lives, and real consequences.
Allison Johnson is the campaign coordinator of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Her commentary "Shackling the Stranger" appeared in the April issue of Sojourners.