On May 13, 2008, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the Agriprocessors Kosher Meat Plant in Postville, Iowa. Three hundred and ninety illegal immigrants were detained in the largest single site immigration raid in American history. In the weeks since the raid the reporting of illegal and cruel treatment of workers, below minimum wage cash payments for grueling work, and massive fraud in the documentation of the work force have become the standard fare of the Iowa newspapers. But this question has to be asked: If there are thousands of illegal workers in the state of Iowa, an overwhelmingly rural and Caucasian state, what is the situation in the parts of the country where differences are not so easily identified?
I have been impressed to personally observe that there still exists, in the United States of America a government entity that can actually do its job competently. Not only did ICE and the other agencies accomplish their goals in an extremely professional manner, but they did so with a sense of kindness and humanity that seems to be lacking in most other government entities. Their concern for the rights of the people detained, as well as taking the time and effort to ascertain their children were cared for speaks well as to the planning and execution of this project.
That being said, good people may disagree as to whether this raid was truly useful, necessary, or in the scheme of the larger problems of illegal immigration, actually accomplished anything for a longer term. That will only be known as we closely monitor, not how this case began, but how it plays out.
1. AGRIPROCESSORS INC. Is anyone buying the Agriprocessors Inc. corporate line
That they are "concerned" and "surprised" about the numerous violations at their plant and are "cooperating fully" with the federal probe? I may have been born in the dark, but it was not yesterday. This company was paying workers five bucks an hour under the table in cash to do the most difficult jobs imaginable! It has broken, over the years, every environmental, child labor, immigration, and labor standard in existence while coaching workers about evasive tactics to use in the event of a raid. There is no way that even a blind and deaf accountant would not know that the employees were not being paid a minimum wage. How likely is it that hundreds of Guatemalans who do not speak one word of English could, by happenstance, end up in Postville, Iowa? What are the odds that hey could have manipulated the system to attain false identifications and social security numbers without massive collusion from this company's operatives? What are the chances that any reasonable company would not question such obvious fraud in every aspect of the hiring and retention of these employees unless, of course, it was to their advantage to do so?
One would think that there would be a special place in hell or Leavenworth for those who have worked so diligently to evade legal and moral responsibility for the mistreatment of people whose only choice was between having a bad job or no job at all, but I will wager that the top management has insulated itself from those who did their dirty work. A lower level employee may well step up and fall on his/her sword to provide "plausible deniability" while the top brass issues a boilerplate "apology" that was written five years ago for just such an eventuality. If all that happens from this incident is that the witnesses to this criminal enterprise are deported to their home countries while the company resumes "business as usual" this entire process will have been a meaningless exercise in public relations.
1. THE POSTVILLE SCHOOLS.
I have worked for school systems in Iowa for nearly 35 years. Generally, when a new student enters we have to obtain past school records with vaccinations, a birth certificate, an Iowa state issued school number, and often, a social security number. It would seem implausible that these documents were provided to the school system for the children of these "undocumented" workers. Did the system turn a blind eye or were they simply following the law? The state of Iowa pays about $5000 per year to educate a child. If there were 300 or so of these children in the Postville system, as has been reported, the citizens of Iowa were absorbing at least $1,500,000 a year to educate the children of people who are not citizens of this state or country. This does not include the extra costs for special education, testing students who do not speak English (don't forget No Child Left Behind), and language development classes.
It is certainly possible that some of these students were born here, and that everything that was done by the school system was totally legal and beyond reproach. I strongly suspect that is the case, and if that is true we should have even more questions. Have federal and state laws and guidelines made this "system" ripe for exploitation? Are the people of Iowa required to pay for the education of children of parents who have no documentation, and are the schools required to accept them? If that is truly the situation, just how was such a guideline adopted and by whom?
People of good faith can disagree about this country's immigration policy, or lack thereof. If you cannot see the hypocrisy of people sporting pro-life and "Jesus Saves" stickers on their trucks while chortling happily about sending families back to places where they have no medical care and not enough to eat you have no sense of irony, but that is not the issue. When one of the arrested workers lamented, "They are arresting me because I want to work" he missed the point. He was arrested because he was here illegally! Every country has the right to protect its borders and to decide how they wish to spend their tax dollars. Those who talk of the taxes generated by those breaking our laws are being disingenuous. Minimum wage jobs and covert cash payments do not come close to paying for the costs of the educational and health care needs that must be met by the reluctant host state and country. The average American worker does not wish to subsidize profitable companies that could pay higher wages, but choose to take the low road of exploiting the desperate.
This raid will send back to their countries about four hundred of the fifteen to twenty million illegal immigrants in this country. If that is all that happens this will have been an exercise in futility. The American people really do want a comprehensive, transparent, and humane guest worker policy that holds the hiring companies, not the taxpayers, responsible for the actual costs generated by their enterprises. This would seem to be doable. Don't hold your breath.