The Power of Postville

This spring, before there were tornados and floods in Iowa, there was a raid. You may have heard about it in the news. It was the largest immigration raid in the history of the country.

Here’s a few facts:

-380 people were arrested by ICE agents, when they raided the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, Agriprocessors.

-Most of the people that were arrested were from Guatemala.

-260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

-Several of these people were of Mayan decent and illiterate in English and Spanish.

-A lot of people sought refuge at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church.

-Many families were separated, and some mothers were allowed to return to Postville to be with their children but now wear ankle bracelets.

This past June, I finally drove out of my way to see the now infamous Agriprocessors meatpacking plant that I had never seen before although I grew up about 10 miles from it. The eeriness of the site was surreal. In the dark, I paused in front of the plant and glared at the endless Help Wanted signs stuck in the lawn. I was stunned when the lyrics of the Indigo Girls’ Shame on You came from the radio:

“There’ll be blue lights flashin down the long dirt road when they ask me to step out They say we be looking for illegal immigrants can we check your car I say you know it’s funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694 I said oo la la shame on you.”

Later, on July 27th I went with some friends and Sisters from my community to Postville in an effort to ask for comprehensive immigration reform, an end to the raids, justice for all workers and integrity of the family. The event brought thousands from all over the Midwest.

Folks gathered for an interfaith prayer service at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, where the crowd overflowed to the lawn. We heard ancient words in English, then Spanish, then Hebrew and then held them in silence. Verses such as Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” After the silence we responded “Give us Courage, Give us Hope, Give us Love.” Then in Spanish “Danos Coraje, Danos Esperanza, Danos Amor.”

As my heart and mind raced in that sacred silence I wondered, what is the power of this crowd? What is the power of these prayers?

At the end of the prayer service I heard the Archbishop of Dubuqe, Iowa, the Rev. Jerome Hanus, OSB remind us to be compassionate people with his voice full of emotion.

Then the prayers hit the street. We marched through the town and carried signs of truth and love and chanted things like “No More Raids!” and “What do we want?” “Justice” “When do we want it? Now!”

At the end of the day we rallied back in the church and heard prophets speak.

A young boy, Pedro Lopez, son of detained worker spoke the truth: “There should be no more tears,” he said. When he said it I don’t think there was actually a dry eye in the room.

The local baker, Elmer Herrera, spoke like a poet: “There is only one race. That is human. There is only one language. That is truth. There is only one religion. That is love.”

And, what I’ll remember from that day is that in Postville there is only one real power, and that is hope.


3 thoughts on “The Power of Postville

  1. Fantastic! Thank you for this. It made me think of something I heard in St Louis. They still, I believe, hold a vigil every sunday evening on the church steps for an end to the war. And one night a passerby yelled out his window asking what they thought their vigil would change. The woman said something to the effect of ‘I do it so they don’t change me’.

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