Big ICE Raid: Hands Off Our Brothers and Sisters!

May 12 -In an outrageous attack on immigrants ICE arrested at least 300 of our brothers and sisters at work and herded like cattle into waiting buses. The following article is reposted from DesMoinesRegister.com

Postville, Ia. – At least 300 people were arrested today at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meat packing plant, federal officials said.

The operation, which targeted people who illegally used other persons Social Security numbers and were in the U.S. illegally, was the largest of its kind in Iowa, said Claude Arnold, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The workers arrested so far were interviewed by agents with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Public Health Service. Public health officials were included to ensure that their humanitarian needs were being met, said U.S. District Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth. Authorities have released 40 of the arrested employees “on humanitarian grounds” with supervision, pending further proceedings, Dummermuth said.

A total of 16 local, state and federal agencies, led by ICE, joined the investigation that began last October. Among them was the U.S. Marshals Service, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S.

Department of Agriculture, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Waterloo Police Department and the Postville Police Department.

Agents with ICE have received information about immigration violations at the plant over the last two years, according to a federal search warrant made public today. Authorities said they will release more details at another press conference tomorrow morning in Cedar Rapids.

According to search warrants, ICE agents interviewed a former plant supervisor – identified as “Source 1” – in November 2007, who told them that the plant employed foreign nationals from Mexico, Guatemala and Eastern Europe. Roughly 80 percent of those workers were living illegally in the U.S., the supervisor said.

“Source 1” told federal agents that some employees were running a methamphetamine lab in the plant, and were bringing weapons to work. The supervisor confronted a higher-level manager about the drugs, and shortly after was fired.

The supervisors also described an encounter with the plant’s human resources manager about three separate Social Security cards from different employees with the same number. The human resources manager “laughed when this matter was brought to her attention,” the supervisor told federal agents.

The Waterloo Cattle Congress grounds will serve as an intake center, said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman from Miami who is at the Cattle Congress grounds.

The men will be housed at Estel Hall at the Cattle Congress, but the women will be housed at local jails, she said.

It’s likely no one will be at Cattle Congress past Thursday, Gonzalez said.

Four Homeland Security buses with U.S. Immigration and Customs tags on them were a the Postville plant this morning.

The buses, along with a trail of SUVs and vans with Minnesota license plates, arrived at about 11:45 a.m.

Federal agents descended upon this northeast Iowa community at about 10 a.m. today to conduct an immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant.

The ICE agents entered the Postville plant to execute a criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, said Tim Counts, a Midwest ICE spokesman.

Agents are also executing a civil search warrant for people illegally in the United States, he said.

Immigration officials told aides to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley that they expect 600 to 700 arrests. About 1,000 to 1,050 people work at the plant, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

Chuck Larson, a truck driver for Agriprocessing, was in the plant when the agents arrived. “There has to be 100 of them,” he said of the agents.

Larson said the agents told workers to stay in place then separated them by asking those with identification to stand to the right and those with other papers, to stand to the left.

“There was plenty of hollering,” Larson said. “You couldn’t go anywhere.” When asked who was separated, Larson said those standing in the group with other papers were all Hispanic.

ICE spokesman Harold Ort in Postville did not confirm or deny that anyone had been detained, but went on to say that the children of those detained would be cared for and that “their caregiver situation will be addressed.”

“They were asked multiple times if they have any sole-caregiver issues or any childcare issues,” Ort said.

He said the two helicopters circling the complex were there to provide EMT support and to watch out for the agents on the ground.

Jeff Schnerbach, a sub-contractor electrician with Viking Electric, said he was on break at 10 a.m. when “200 agents” stringed into the complex.

“They took our statements, asked us where we were from, asked for an ID and let us go,” Schnerbach.

Early scene in Postville

Earlier this morning, a helicopter hovered over the scene, and a number of agents formed a perimeter around the Agriprocessors facility. Vehicles from ICE and at least eight cars and vans from the Iowa State Patrol were at the plant. There were also reports of two moving vans at the scene, along with an ambulance and two black Chevrolet Suburbans.

Counts declined to confirm where people who are arrested will be detained. Federal officials have leased the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, but they declined to explain last week whether the property was being prepared for use as a detention center.

Aides to Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, said they have been told that “hundreds” of arrests are expected because the action is more of an “investigation” than an immigration raid, and specific individuals are being targeted for arrest as part of the investigation.

Jeff Giertz, a spokesman for Braley, said immigration officials left the impression that the Cattle Congress site will be used mainly for processing of suspects rather than any long-term detention.

Counts said that each person being arrested would be questioned by ICE and by Public Health Service medical professionals to determine if they have humanitarian issues, including child care giver or medical issues.

“Those interviews will aid ICE in determining whether people will be detained or conditionally released on humanitarian grounds, pending their immigration court appearance,” Counts said.

Counts described the events in Postville as a “single site operation.” He said he was not aware of any other immigration raids being conducted elsewhere today.

Postville Police Chief Michael Halse said he did not know anything about the raid until 10 a.m. today.

Iowa Department of Public Safety officials referred all questions to federal authorities. A news conference is scheduled at 2 p.m. today at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids.

Postville, on the border of Allamakee and Clayton counties, is a community of more than 2,500 people that includes natives of German and Norwegian heritage and newcomers who include Hasidic Jews from New York, plus immigrants from Mexico, Russian, Ukraine and many other countries.

The Agriprocessors plant, known as the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, is northeast Iowa’s largest employer.

About 200 Hasidic Jews arrived in Postville in 1987, when butcher Aaron Rubashkin of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood reopened a defunct meat-packing plant with his two sons, Sholom and Heshy, just outside the city limits. Business boomed at the plant, reviving the depressed economy while pitting the newcomers against the predominately Lutheran community.

A University of Iowa professor, Stephen Bloom, wrote a book, “Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America,” detailing what happened.

Workers and immigration advocates in Iowa began girding for an immigration raid last week after learning that federal authorities had leased Waterloo’s Cattle Congress fairgrounds. Federal officials declined to explain their plans last week, but advocates worried the fairgrounds would be used as a detention center. That’s what happened in December 2006, when federal agents took people apprehended in a raid at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown to the Camp Dodge military base in Johnston.

The scene in Waterloo

In Waterloo, a helicopter cruised over the Cattle Congress fairgrounds about 12:45 p.m. as a group of about five reporters watched from a parking lot across the street from the main gate.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials in black uniforms were posted at the gate and referred all reporter questions to Tim Counts, the spokesman.

A few touring coach buses were parked inside the gates, along with several ICE vehicles.

Retired University of Northern Iowa professor Rosa Maria de Finlay approached the gate to offer her interpretation services, but she, too, was turned away by an agent. De Finlay said she has stopped by Cattle Congress repeatedly today, checking the grounds for signs that people were being detained there. She said she saw no buses enter.

“I think the money we’re spending on all this is incredible. You and I will never know how much it costs. That money could be used for something else other than this crap, this nonsense,” she said.

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  • Guest (Iris)

    I heard there were raids at high schools on the west coast:

    "Today (March 6) -- 4 days after many students walked out for May 1 and one day after Cinco de Mayo celebrations -- ICE agents terrorized communities in Berkeley and Oakland, spreading panic and fear and schools in both districts, particularly Berkeley High School and Stonehurst Elementary in East Oakland. This also came on the heels of major raids in San Francisco (supposedly a 'sanctuary city') and other East Bay cities at the El Balazo Taqueria chain restaurants on May 2. >From what we know at this point, ICE vans drove through the streets of Berkeley and East Oakland today, in particular, driving around Berkeley High and Stonehurst. This provoked a 'frenzy' (as one BHS teacher described it) of panic and fear that spread through the school and beyond. At BHS, teachers were hiding students, parents were frantically rushing to the school to pick up their kids and make sure they were safe, and many tears were shed. The Berkeley and Oakland school districts did the right thing: they sent out directives to all their schools to not let ICE agents cross onto school grounds. And Berkeley High apparently arranged for rides home for some students. In Oakland, mayor Ron Dellums came to Stonehurst at the end of the day to denounce the raids, saying, 'No way children should ever be treated to that kind of harassment and fear.'

    Although ICE agents did not enter school grounds (from what I can tell), they arrested a family of 4 (with relatives that attend BHS) on Russell Street in Berkeley near BHS and they arrested a woman in East Oakland near the elementary school. There are reports that ICE agents questioned students at the elementary school. Although some media outlets may try to turn this into a case of 'false alarm' -- as in, they weren't actually targeting the students so it's nothing to get worked up about. But it would be a serious mistake to fall into that kind of thinking. First of all, whether ICE entered the schools or not, they succeeded in doing what they are trying to do: creating a climate of fear among the immigrant population in general, and in particular among the most potentially radical section of that population (many of whom showed that when they walked out several days earlier), the youth. And if people are mollified by the fact that these gestapo-like raids are happening in our communities but not (yet) IN our schools, then we have big problems. While there have been major ICE operations in the Bay Area following the outpouring of immigrants into the streets in 2006, they have (mostly) not been in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, which are known for their more tolerant, 'sanctuary' status. Now they are even coming to these communities. "

    Got that through WCW. Ya Basta!

  • Guest (Iris)

    Correction: raids around schools.

    In my city, student groups did physical mosque defense after 9/11. There have been a lot of unreported raids here (I live near the largest Latino pop. in the Midwest) and I wish I could do more than just sell the damn paper.

  • Guest (onehundredflowers)

    Is there a newfound intensity here related to the continuing mobilizations of immigrants for their rights, or a continuation of existing policy?

    I'm trying to get a handle on this, but I'm having a hard time putting the pieces together.

  • Guest (Sean S.)

    @Iris

    As federal agencies, the immigration authorities can and do often walk all over the local authorities and governments of a city. I'm not sure whether it legal or not for them to just walk onto school property, but its something that alongside military recruiters, teachers and their unions need to be more in force about protecting. Than again, most schools also have "resource officers" to make the presence of law enforcement known.

    Other than getting lawyers to file appeal after appeal in an effort to muck up the works of deportation, I don't see any direct method through which immigrant families can be protected, other than adopting a tactic used by ALF i.e. setting up a phone tree of safe houses that people could temporarily be housed in when a raid is feared to be imminent or is in process but hasn't hit, say, every house in a block. Similar tactics have been used for demonstrations when they've gone wrong, especially at some of the global summits.

  • Guest (gangbox)

    Along with the obvious anti Latin@ racism involved in this raid, there's also a healthy dose of good old fashioned antisemitism.

    AgriProcessors is, so far as I know, the only Jewish-owned meatpacking plant in Iowa (and one of the last family-owned operations in a business largely dominated by multinational conglomerates run by White Christians).

    And the Jewish family that owns AgriProcessors are Lubavicher Hassidim from Williamsburg, Brooklyn (that is, the most "unassimilated" Jews you could imagine - in a part of the country where many in the White community don't particularly care for even the most Americanized Jews).

    Also, alongside the Guatemalans and Mexicans on the production chain, they had a handful of Jewish immigrants - Hassidim from Israel, Russia and the Ukraine - as well.

    The Mayor of Postville was quoted in the Des Moines Register as saying he thought the plant may have been targeted because of antisemitism - basically because, in his opinion, there has been longstanding antisemitism directed by the town's White Christian majority against the plant's owners, as well as the roughly 200 Hassidic Jews who live in and around Postville (almost all of whom have some sort of tie to the plant - and almost all of whom came from Brooklyn when the plant's owners brought the facility).

    Add to that the fact that AgriProcessors was facing not one but two seperate United Food and Commercial Workers organizing drives (by UFCW local 174 at their plant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and by UFCW local 1149 in Postville, Iowa).

    Unlike most meatpackers, who've grown quite sophisiticated about the whole unionbusting thing, AgriProcessors was actually blatant and stupid enough to tell the NLRB that they deliberately used undocumented workers because they felt those workers had no legal rights!!

    Along with the organizing drives, AgriProcessors also faced a UFCW-instigated US DoL investigation for various and sundry labor abuses at Postville (subminimum wages, sexual harassment, "immigration fees" charged to workers, having 13 year old kids using power saws on the production chain ect).

    This is the usual horrorshow you find at a midwestern meatpacking plant these days - but AgriProcessors was just a little bit more blatant and in-your-face about it than the big corporate owned plants.

    Based on these factors, you can draw a reasonable conclusion as to why they got raided, as opposed to Tyson, or Swift, or IBP.