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 http://postvilleletters.blogspot.com/.
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.