Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.
Postville more diverse now than at time of immigration raid
Two young men with blond hair and t-shirts advertising rock bands speak to one another and seem oblivious to the greetings of others they pass on the sidewalk in Postville Thursday. They barely make eye contact as they are greeted with “hello” or “good afternoon.” Their actions, perceived as rude by some, are primarily because the two know little English.
“We don’t talk,” one of the men flatly states without breaking stride. “We speak Russian; no English.”
A husband and wife, recruited into Postville by a Texas staffing agency to work at Agriprocessors, walk along the downtown sidewalks and carry a box of aluminum cans. Although they speak English, they don’t want to be interviewed either. They are too busy collecting the cans, which they will redeem for the deposit money, so they can feed their family.
Across the street, two Somali men are stocking shelves in a building that until recently housed a Jewish-run property management company. A white sign with stark green lettering in the windows on either side of the building reads simply “Peace Grocery.”Â The two men, who plan to open the business on Monday, said the the store will carry a few items needed by the Solmali community in Postville, but will be more of a general store than a specialty market. They point to housewares and soaps, items they’ve already placed on the shelves as evidence.
The once thriving Hispanic grocery store located across the street from the Solmali venture has downsized and reduced its hours of operation. To the south sits a small IGA grocery store, a business that, thus far, has weathered the cultural shifts.
Down the block a group of three young black men stand outside of a convenience store. They need to make a call into Chicago, but don’t have a phone. They too have come to Postville in hopes of working at Agriprocessors, but the employment interviews didn’t pan out. They borrow a cellular phone and make three calls, each a request for a ride and/or money that will take them back to Illinois. When none of the calls are successful, the men decline an interview and begin walking toward downtown.
Still further down the same street, a group of young men with olive skin sit on a porch and share food from a styrofoam container. A couple of the men wear long basketball shorts, one wears a winter sock top hat and all have layered their clothing against the mild autumn chill. Eight men live in the sparsely furnished home. They traveled to Iowa together from the tropical island of Palau and have just begun working at Agriprocessors. The men are willing to talk, but only if their names aren’t used. They don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with their new employer.
“In Palau, people work for about $2.50 an hour — mostly fishing and farming,” explained one of the youngest men when asked why they traveled to Iowa for employment. He only recently married and left his bride in Palau when he traveled to the United States.
The men are quick to point out that they are legal employees, that they have gone through proper channels to come and work here. They’ve heard news reports about the immigration raid and how those employees have described their treatment at Agriprocessors.
“When you don’t have the right papers, employers think they can do whatever they want,” said a 20-something man.
The men are aware that even some of the legal workers who have come into Postville after the raid have been disgruntled because of discrepencies in paid wages and paycheck garnishments for rent and utilities. Some of the new workers, after being on the job for days, have netted no pay once payments for desposits and rent were garnished.
“We will keep an eye on our hours,” the oldest man states thoughtfully. “We know we will have rents coming out of our check, but I think it will be alright. We have another man from Palau who is working on our behalf with the company.”
Another man on the porch adds that many in the group have family members already living in Des Moines, people they can call on if needed.
One piece of news the men had not heard was the recent charges of child labor law violations at the plant. The men steal glances at one another after hearing this, but don’t otherwise offer comment about the news itself.
“It will be okay,” the older man said. “We have the Palau man looking out for us.”
Despite the news reports and doubts, the men are hopeful they will be able to make a good living in Postville. “We came here to work,” said the older man, “and we will work hard.”
There are currently 16 people from the island of Palau living in Postville. Eight more were scheduled to arrive today, and still more are expected to come in the near future.