Staff Columnist

Ten years past Postville, immigration reform still needed

An Iowa State Patrol car blocks the entrance to MPC Enterprises around noon Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Earlier in the day, ICE raided the concrete manufacturer, located near Mt. Plesant, Iowa, taking a bus load of people off the premises. The raid came just days before the 10th anniversary of the historic immigration raid in Postville, Iowa. (Grace King/Mt. Pleasant News)
An Iowa State Patrol car blocks the entrance to MPC Enterprises around noon Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Earlier in the day, ICE raided the concrete manufacturer, located near Mt. Plesant, Iowa, taking a bus load of people off the premises. The raid came just days before the 10th anniversary of the historic immigration raid in Postville, Iowa. (Grace King/Mt. Pleasant News)

About two weeks before federal agents raided a meatpacking plant in Postville ten years ago today, a small news item went virtually unnoticed.

The news brief announced the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had rented the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo for the entire month of May, ostensibly for training exercises.

The Cattle Congress, once a temporary home for exhibited dairy cattle like Guernseys and Ayrshires, became a temporary holding facility for detained Postville workers from Guatemala and Mexico. A makeshift courtroom was established there as well, within the historic Electric Park Ballroom. Generally the ballroom hosts community events ranging from wedding receptions to political fundraisers.

In fact, somewhere in my files I have a photo of Rick Perry, a GOP presidential hopeful at the time, seated in the same area of the ballroom where men, chained together in groups of ten, were shuffled before a judge. Another presidential hopeful, Michele Bachmann, auctioned a pie near where the judge sat three years earlier.

I stood with state and national reporters while Iowa’s political faithful celebrated and planned for the future. The soundtrack in my mind was rattling chains punctuated by softly spoken Spanish and a gavel’s sharp rap.

This week, as federal immigration agents raided a Mt. Pleasant business, these blended memories and more resurfaced. The small news brief, as well as the many after-the-fact reports about the presence of federal government vehicles in area communities.

A decade ago it was primarily the vehicles that alerted the immigrant community in and around Waterloo that something was brewing. Before the massive raid in Postville, many had already voiced concerns, taken refuge or left the area.

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I’m ashamed to admit that just days ago I saw Homeland Security vehicles in Cedar Rapids. Brushing aside my twisting stomach, I did little more than mention the oddity to a co-worker.

A recent column explained how I can’t forget Postville; experiences in the wake of the immigration raid changed my perception, altered who I am and what I believe. Even so, I forgot this small but important pre-Postville lesson.

Now it’s happening again, although thankfully on a smaller scale. Children and parents are ripped apart. A community is experiencing the trauma of man-made disaster. And reporters, much like the me of 10 years ago, will try to make some sense out of the carnage.

Members of the Postville community, whom I joined on Friday in public remembrance of their decade-old trauma, quickly responded to the Mt. Pleasant raid, saying they stand in solidarity with those impacted and are praying. May we all be blessed with their level of resilience.

For it isn’t only the small lessons from Postville — or, for that matter, Marshalltown or Laurel, Miss. — that Iowans and Americans have forgotten. We’ve lost sight of the largest lesson of all, enabling this ugly and harmful past to repeat.

We must muster the political will necessary to stop this cycle by passing comprehensive immigration reform.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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