Sunday, May 18, 2008


From the Washington Post today:

Monday's raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. It has upended this tree-lined community, which calls itself "Hometown to the World." Half of the school system's 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.

Current and former officials of the Department of Homeland Security say its raid on the largest employer in northeast Iowa reflects the administration's decision to put pressure on companies with large numbers of illegal immigrant workers, particularly in the meat industry. But its disruptive impact on the nation's largest supplier of kosher beef and on the surrounding community has provoked renewed criticism that the administration is disproportionately targeting workers instead of employers, and that the resulting turmoil is worse than the underlying crimes.

"They don't go after employers. They don't put CEOs in jail," complained the Postville Community Schools superintendent, David Strudthoff, 51, who said the sudden incarceration of more than 10 percent of the town's population of 2,300 "is like a natural disaster -- only this one is manmade."...

...For now, Postville residents -- immigrants and native-born -- are holding their breath. On Greene Street, where the Hall Roberts' Son Inc. feed store, Kosher Community Grocery and Restaurante Rinconcito Guatemalteco sit side by side, workers fear a chain of empty apartments, falling home prices and business downturns. The main street, punctuated by a single blinking traffic signal, has been quiet; a Guatemalan restaurant temporarily closed; and the storekeeper next door reported a steady trickle of families quietly booking flights to Central America via Chicago.

"Postville will be a ghost town," said Lili, a Ukrainian store clerk who spoke on the condition that her last name be withheld....

This isn't a matter of illegal immigrants doing jobs American citizens would otherwise do. It isn't a matter of hardened criminals entering the US. It isn't a matter of national security.

It's a matter of legal categories of proper residency and a matter of the very real human lives of workers. But let's consider the other side of the equation. Driving across the middle United States, the so-called "heartland," you'll find town after town that has been abandoned by previous industries that once essentially established the towns - the steel towns of Pennsylvania, the farming towns of the midwest. Those shifts in economic activity, usually the result of the financial whims of corporate revenue-seeking, have left ghost towns across the US as nearly a matter of national policy. In towns with newer immigrant-hiring industries - usually meat processing plants - there's re-energized economic activity beyond the plants - shops and restaurants and schools and real estate. It's true that in some cases Guatemalan, Mexican, and other immigrants have not been openly welcomed by older residents, but most towns have come to terms with the life-giving activity they bring to them.

Why not, rather than criminalizing immigrants and ignoring the clearly illegal hiring practices of American company owners, build an immigration policy that seeks the best for immigrants and for towns in the US that are otherwise economically and culturally dead? Apart from the racism that seeps into the views of American commentators and is often a subtext of American immigration policy, given that the US has largely allowed its mythical Heartland to die, why not a new, real Corazónland?

And for some further context, see here: Big Ag Sway Clear in Senate Farm Bill

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