Iowa town become flash point in immigration debate
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By HENRY C. JACKSON
Associated Press Writer
POSTVILLE, Iowa (AP) — As the chants of 1,000 or so people roared near the center of town, Dave Hartley stood on the periphery wearing a look of wonder and bemusement.
The 50-year-old Postville resident said he never expected this sleepy community of about 2,200 to become a flashpoint in the debate over immigration. As a three-hour protest concluded just blocks from his house, he spoke regretfully about what the town had become.
"It’s not their fault," he said of the protesters. "It just didn’t need to get to this, to a boiling point."
With chants of "End the raids!" and "Si se puede!" — or "Yes, we can!" — hundreds of immigration protesters brought a national debate to this isolated corner of northeastern Iowa. The protests came in response to a May raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant, the largest enforcement effort in U.S. history.
Busloads of protesters from the Twin Cities and Chicago as well as hundreds of others from around the region rallied as residents sat on their lawns and gaped. Organizers said there were more than 1,000 people participating.
Protesters walked, stomped and chanted on a route about a mile long. The rally started at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, winding its way through town and pausing near the driveway of Agriprocessors.
"This is an awesome moment, a historic moment," said Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget’s. "We’re calling for reform, not raids."
The May 12 raid at Agriprocessors — the nation’s biggest kosher meatpacking plant — resulted in 389 arrests. Most of those arrested were Guatemalan and Mexican nationals who lived in Postville and the surrounding area.
Sunday’s protesters included hundreds of Hispanics but had a diverse collection of ages, races and genders. Elderly white women marched next to young Hispanic men and Jewish men from Minneapolis and Chicago. They clutched banners and signs like one that read, "United for immigrant and worker rights."
The protesters circled the streets of Postville before returning to the center of town. They passed a much smaller group of anti-immigration protesters along the way, outshouting them during their march.
One of them was Claire Jamison, who said she’d traveled from Minneapolis to protest the protesters. She wore a hat emblazoned with a U.S. Border Patrol logo and held up a sign reading "What would Jesus do? Obey the law" as she shouted across the street.
"I’m just so fed up as an American. We have laws. Why can’t they obey our laws?" Jamison said. "I empathize with those people, but they are not victims. They should not have even been here."
Apart from a few moments of cross-shouting, Sunday’s protests remained orderly. Local police formed a perimeter around the march, separating anti-immigration protesters from marchers.
The march ended with a rally outside St. Bridget’s, before a heavy rain storm forced the crowd to disband.
Getzel Rubashkin, an Agriprocessors employee and a member of the family that owns it, said it was unfair to blame his family and Agriprocessors for the raid and theorized that unspecified competitors and enemies of the plant were behind the enforcement action.
The reaction from Postville residents appeared largely supportive. Cindy Moser, 53, from nearby Elkader, said her daughter and son-in-law were marching while she watched her two grandchildren.
"If they want to come and work here I say fine," Moser said. "We all saw the effect of this. My grandson, he told me, ’Grandma, they took my friends away.’ I hope this stops."