Postville revisited

This past week, the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin hosted its eighth annual Faith-Labor Breakfast.  It’s a chance for labor union and religion leaders to gather and learn more about an issue affecting workplace issues, and how the community could respond.

A few months ago, someone on the board suggested we talk about Postville, Iowa, and the immigration raids that took place there last May 2008.  I had followed what had happened at the time, but was a bit naive in how it is still effectively destroying the community.  I called Father Paul Ouderkirk to see if he would be available to come to Madison, not really knowing how he was as a speaker.  Right away, I knew he was perfect.  He was completely fired up, saying that the destruction the community continues to face is real and cannot be forgotten.

Basically, Father Paul, as well as Paul Rael (the lay Hispanic minister at St. Bridget’s in Postville) came into town, as did Rev. Mark Anderson from the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA.  Paul Rael shed light on how he was hired a few years ago to more or less teach Sunday school in Spanish – and now he’s become a 24/7 advocate for immigration reform.  Father Paul came out of retirement after the raids to lend a voice to the community.  And Rev. Anderson gave a perspective on the denominational support for the community in Postville – for the first time in the Lutheran Church’s history, a disaster was declared that was human-made.  A pretty good blog on the situation in Postville with a Lutheran slant is

Postville is a town of about 2,000 people – and 389 people were arrested last May.  St. Bridget’s spends approximately $84,000 a month helping the community, with donations pouring in from 49 states and several foreign countries.  In fact, you can send a contribution in as well:

St. Bridget’s Hispanic Ministry

PO Box 369

Postville, Iowa 52162

Ironically, the immigration raids have brought so many people from all over the spectrum on immigration issues together.  Rev. Anderson told us how he’s gotten calls from white Iowa grandmothers who say, “You know, I don’t really like all those Mexicans, but there is no way a child in Iowa is going to go hungry.”  He doesn’t tell them that the majority of people in Postville are Mayan and from Guatemala, but accepts the support and solidarity they are able to lend.

He also clarified the charges of identity theft that so many people are facing charges for.  When you think of identity theft, maybe you think of a bunch of people sitting at a computer, hacking into credit card accounts using social security numbers.  In this case, he says, it’s more like someone going to a bank, saying they are Mark Anderson, and then depositing $100 into his account.  Effectively, all over the country, people are using social security numbers belonging to someone else, just to get a job and feed their family, and the ‘damage’ that comes along with this is having more money go toward retirement (not that anyone will see that money, but that’s another story).

Some of the immigrants have been deported back to Guatemala, separating the working people from their families.  However, a larger majority of the workers have remained in Postville – some to testify in a pending lawsuit against the kosher meatpacking plant (which has since gone bankrupt), and others have had to remain in town for the pending identity theft trials (which again, was probably benefiting the American people more than anything).

There’s a lot more to say – maybe I’ll write more later on this topic.  I’d love to hear your comments on immigration reform, identity theft, and how congregations and denominations can best lend their solidarity to the most marginalized people in our communities.  And if you’re looking to tithe money to a new place, it sure seems like St. Bridget’s Hispanic Ministry could use the help.

Mike S-B, Caroline Rael, Paul Rael (of St. Bridget's), Doug Keillor (chair of the ICWJ), Rabbi Renee Bauer (director of the ICWJ), Mike Childers (treasurer of the ICWJ), Father Paul Ouderkirk (retired pastor of St. Bridget's, Postville)

Mike S-B, Caroline Rael, Paul Rael (of St. Bridget's), Doug Keillor (chair of the ICWJ), Rabbi Renee Bauer (director of the ICWJ), Mike Childers (treasurer of the ICWJ), Father Paul Ouderkirk (retired pastor of St. Bridget's, Postville)


3 thoughts on “Postville revisited

  1. Having had the unique opportunity to live with families in Bolivia and El Salvador, I find it hard to justify the actions of the immigration raids. I have several friends who have been forced to immigrate in order to provide for themselves and their families and I have seen what it does to the people left behind. My heart aches when I read these stories, especially for the children who have had their families ripped apart. And as someone who actually DID have my identity stolen, I find there to be a large distance between paying taxes on a false social security number and using someone’s social security number to purchase cell phones and take out credit cards. Immigration is a complex situation and real reform is needed…but that includes acknowledging that undocumented workers take the necessary jobs in our country that no citizen would take.

    Almost three years ago, I had the privilege of marching with over 30,000 other people from the Cathedral in St. Paul, MN, to the State Capitol building. It was an incredible experience, but the thing I remember most about that day isn’t the crowds or the cheering or even the sense of hope that things will get better. It was a conversation I had with one of the other marchers. As we were walking, I noticed someone with a Salvadoran flag walking with a teenage boy. As Salvador holds s special place in my heart, I struck up a conversation with the man. He came to the United States during the Civil War in Salvador, having lost several family members. He came without documentation and became a citizen when the general amnesty was declared. And he was eloquent about how much his citizenship meant to him…but it was his conviction that families should never be torn apart, that people need to understand WHY someone would choose to take a risk (and it is a risk) to cross borders without documentation. It’s not because they want to, but it’s because they have to.

  2. Thank you, Mike, for this fabulous post and writing more about what is going on in Postville. It is practically my hometown- Fr. Paul was the priest at my parish (St. Peter’s in Clermont, IA) and Postville before he retired. He mentored me through my high school and college years and was a great model of living the social justice gospel for me.
    The people of postville need our prayers, our money, our advocacy and all the support we can muster. It seems that one horrific day last May could have destroyed the community for years, a community that was so vibrant a year ago and a pride of Iowa for it’s diversity. God help us!

  3. I love Fr. Paul.

    For those who don’t know I’m Julia’s sister. He is a great friend of our family and we try to help him every time we are home.

    Postville is still struggling. Keep them in your prayers.


    PS did you read J’s post on the rally.. there is another one coming up during the anniversary.

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