As Cedar Rapids prepares for the 10-year anniversary of the worst flooding in its history, let us remember another disaster that occurred 10 years ago. This other disaster was human-caused, not natural.
This other disaster was humanitarian, the direct result of actions of high-level U.S. government officials.
I refer to the 2008 Postville raid. May 12, 2008, began as a normal quiet morning for Postville, a small northeast Iowa town, population 2,000. That quiet was shattered as more than 1,000 Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents descended on the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse. ICE arrested and detained almost 400 individuals. Never before had our country seen an immigration raid so large.
This is the story of a nightmare, a nightmare where individuals were processed through a judicial assembly line in a space reserved for cattle. A nightmare of child labor and sexual harassment. A narrative of jailed managers, and fraud-perpetrating and money-laundering executives.
The raid left a trail of traumatized children, separated families and economic ruin for one rural Iowa town. The raid offered a rare public glimpse into the workings of our immigration legal system. The raid exposed the facade of judicial propriety for what it was — a substratum of rampant injustice. Constitutional rights of due process were trampled.
In the aftermath of the Postville raid, Luis Argueta, a Guatemalan-American filmmaker, traveled to Postville to interview the survivors and assess the impact of the raid. What Argueta found compelled him to return many times to Postville in the years thereafter.
Based on those interviews, Argueta went on produce three award-winning documentaries about the raid and the people of Postville.
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This Monday, at 5:30 p.m., the Catherine McAuley Center will host a screening of the first of those documentaries. “AbUSed: The Postville Raid” in Whipple Auditorium of the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Curious about happened that quiet morning 10 years ago? Come see this documentary. After the film, Argueta and others who worked directly with those in Postville post-raid will participate in a panel discussion and answer questions. At 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Chapel of Mercy (Busse Center) at Mount Mercy University, Argueta will speak further about his life and work.
Admission is free to both events, and all are welcome.
As time passes, the horror and terror felt by those workers and their families fades into oblivion. Other events thrust on us a collective amnesia surrounding Postville. We must not forget. Our common humanity demands memory. Empathy requires recall — recall that the core wants and desires of an undocumented immigrant taken by ICE that quiet morning in Postville mirror our own.
Keep the memory of Postville that quiet morning alive. Raise the tableau of frightened children within our state psyche. Replay the Postville pageant for our national consciousness as often as necessary until the injustices visited upon those meatpacking workers are banished from reality. Attending these 10-year commemorative events is one way to begin.
l Caleb Gates works as a refugee case manager and advocacy specialist for the Catherine McAuley Center. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org