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Postville anniversary rally smaller, but more focused
Time may not have necessarily healed all wounds in Postville following last year’s massive federal immigration raid, but it has dulled the pain enough for demonstrators to approach immigration with a considered thoughtfulness not seen previously.
“The overall feel of this rally was so different than the one in July,” said Sister Mary McCauley as she reflected on the differences between Postville’s one-year anniversary observance held Tuesday and the much larger demonstration and march held last summer. “What I felt today was a specific focus and call for comprehensive immigration reform. In July everything was so raw — there was a lot of anger being expressed.”
McCauley, who officially retired as the pastoral administrator for the region that includes St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, is one of the people who have held hands, prayed and worked tirelessly in the months following the massive immigration raid at Agriprocessors that ended with 389 mostly Hispanic laborers in federal custody and charged criminally.
“We are aware of some of the pain, suffering and injustice that you experienced in your home country and also upon arriving in the United States,” McCauley said to the immigrants who gathered at the church for a prayer vigil on Tuesday evening. “For any pain, suffering or injustice that we as individuals, our Postville community, our government or any of our citizens may have caused, we ask your forgiveness.”
Following McCauley’s comments, the roughly 700 people assembled at the church lined up on the street outside. Compared to last summer, there were far fewer signs held by participants, and most were carried primarily for group identification. While the walkers were not silent, there was no deliberate effort made to organize specific chants.
The group walked through a residential area, with a clear sense of purpose but little outward anger. They met no resistance, save a single comment yelled through a resident’s open window. Upon arriving at the Agriprocessors plant’s property line, no one seemed to want a confrontation. Instead, four men of faith climbed into the back of a waiting truck, grabbed nearby megaphones and offered a blessing.
“Confident of [God's] constant presence, we ask [his] blessing on this plant,” said Rabbi Morris Allen, who drove in from St. Paul, Minn. “Since its opening in 1987, many have labored to produce nourishing food. We ask your blessing on all who have worked here, who are working here, or may work here in the future. May they labor in the atmosphere of peace, justice and safety.”
Even before the blessing could be translated into Spanish, the marchers applauded to signal approval of the sentiments expressed.
“I dreaded this day for two weeks, but then it dawned on me a few days ago that this day was really just going to be like any other,” said Paul Rael, Hispanic lay-minister at St. Bridget’s. “This was a day to continue our theme of July 27, advocating for just practices in the work place, family solidarity and comprehensive immigration reform. We also had another opportunity to let the story out of our people. Those stories need to be told, known and repeated.”
And, they were. During the prayer vigil, two immigrants, one male and one female, provided compelling narratives of their journey into the U.S. and what they found upon arrival.
“Today was a day of sadness because we stood in solidarity with people who have lived in pain,” McCauley said. “I felt great heartache, but I also felt great hope at the number of people who were here. One of our Mexican women walked with me and expressed what a great day it was. She had tears of joy.
“But until we can get our citizens to call up on their congresspersons and senators, and until we can get our political leaders here in Postville and seeing the pain of the people, then only will immigration reform become a priority. What we have to do is move it from Postville and what we’ve witnessed today and into the global world.”
Although no members of the Iowa congressional delegation personally came to Postville for the one-year anniversary, representatives were sent from the offices of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Bruce Braley, both Democrats. Official statements were distributed by Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican, as well as Braley and Harkin. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, also a Republican, wrote a letter to McCauley indicating his regrets and offering “best wishes for a memorable afternoon.” Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge did not acknowledge the anniversary.