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Latham: Congressional Postville Visit Will Offer Firsthand Glimpse into National Immigration Debate
U.S. Rep. Tom Latham is hopeful that an upcoming trip by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus into Postville will allow more people to witness the aftermath of the May 12 immigration raid in the community, and allow policy makers to have a better understanding of the human and economic tolls of such a federal action.
“The members of the Hispanic Caucus will have seen firsthand, number one, the effect of the meatpacking plant owners and, what appears to be, them knowingly having illegal people working there,” Latham said in an interview with Iowa Independent. “They will see the impact and the consequences of that. Most importantly to me, they are going to see how devastating this was to the families who have been torn apart — the human impact on these people.”
Three members of the Hispanic Caucus will travel to Postville this Saturday, July 26, and meet with workers at the plant, families and children left behind, detainees who were released with electronic tracking devices, religious leaders and community organizations to hear their stories and bring the findings back to Congress. The group will be led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and chairman of the caucus’s immigration task force. He will be joined by Rep. Joe Baca, a California Democrat and chairman of the caucus, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the caucus’s task force on economic development.
Latham, a Republican representing Iowa’s 4th District, said he has tried to give Gutierrez “a flavor” of the diverse community and an overview of some of the issues Postville faces in the wake of the immigration raid.
“I had a good conversation — probably 15 or 20 minutes — with Congressman Gutierrez, who is going to be leading the group,” Latham said. “I think the benefit for Postville is the general idea of other members of congress being in that community. Postville was economically, in many ways, devastated by the raid. They will see the effects on the community that the raid has had. That, I think, is very, very positive. I welcome them to come to the district and into Postville. I think it will be very informative.”
In preparing for his visit to Postville, Gutierrez minced few words about what he sees as the problems, and the roadblocks to workable solutions.
“From the White House to the hall of Congress, Republicans love to talk about family values,” Gutierrez said. “But when we storm into the workplace of hardworking individuals and rip parents apart from their children, without regard to safety or the damage to the community at large, we are not respecting family values. In fact, we are doing nothing to fix an immigration system that is quite obviously broken.
“I believe we are better than that. This country is better than that. Instead of tacitly supporting raids on factory workers or janitors or construction workers or maids, this congress should be working to enact real solutions to our immigration problems. It is my sincere hope that in bringing the stories of the parents, children and workers of Postville back to Congress, our lawmakers will see the very real consequences of punitive actions in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Gutierrez believes that what has been seen in Postville is the end result of an immigration system that is “predicated on fear tactics and piecemeal, deportation-only policies” that worsens the overall immigration crises and creates broken homes.
“The [Bush] Administration may have successfully pandered to anti-immigrant extremists and conservative pundits, but it truly failed nearly 400 hardworking families, who are now left with an impossible daily struggle to feed their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens,” Gutierrez said. “Meanwhile, their employers — who are accused of wage and hour violations, child labor and physical and sexual abuse — face no charges.”
Despite the men attacking the issue from two different vantage points, both Latham and Gutierrez seem to agree that a human face needs to be put on the national immigration debate — and that the face the debate needs might very well be in Postville.
“[The trip by the Hispanic Caucus] will help with the debate back here — in Washington — and really bring home in human terms the impact of not only the way that this raid was conducted, but also just the whole illegal immigrant debate in general,” Latham said.
Postville is home to Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant owned by the Aaron Rubashkin family. The plant was the site of what federal authorities have dubbed the largest single-site immigration raid in the nation’s history. A total of 389 people were detained as a result of the raid. Within 10 days, most had been prosecuted on criminal charges and sentenced to five months in prison.
Only two members of plant middle management are currently facing charges. They are both Hispanic. No members of upper management have been charged.