An estimated 2,000 protesters from the Twin Cities, Chicago and throughout the Midwest gathered in Postville in July 2008, for an interfaith service, march and rally calling for comprehensive immigration reform, family unification and just labor practices. The march was called in response to a raid May 12 on Agriprocessors Inc., in Postville - the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the United States. (Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond)
Postville's experience, in particular, points to the brokenness of an enforcement-only system on our economy, our wellbeing, our values and on the lives of people who seek to contribute to our communities. But the experiences of Postville are also vital because the 'hometown to the world' is an example of how newcomers to this country can -- as they have in previous generations -- be a key to creating a bright future for our rural communities. If there is agreement on one thing, it is that our current broken immigration system does not serve our communities well. -- David Vasquez
Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed that every step toward the goal of justice requires "the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."
Friday, May 10, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the largest (at the time) single-site immigration raid in the history of the United States - at the former AgriProcessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville May 12, 2008 -- dedicated individuals from throughout the upper Midwest will gather in Cedar Rapids to express their passionate concern and take another step toward the goal of justice.
Called "Remember, Reconcile and Reform: Turn the Tragedy in Postville, into a Victory for Justice," the event's purpose, according to a statement released by organizers, is "to remember the 389 persons who were arrested that day, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies."
"The assembly is being planned by a wide coalition of those involved in the response to the raid, as well as those affected," the statement continued. "It will include immigrants who were part of the 2008 raid, church representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, lawyers who saw the injustice of the system and others who are concerned about immigration reform."
The event begins at noon, with a remembrance ritual at the park across from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, 111 7th Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids.
A "Walk for Justice" at 12:30 p.m. to Immaculate Conception Church, 857 3rd Ave. SE, will follow, where an interfaith prayer for reconciliation and a call for reform of U.S. immigration policies will take place at 1:15 p.m.
Organizers said the location in front of the federal Court was chosen both because of the Court's role in the raid and because of the significance of the event to the ongoing national conversation about immigration.
David Vasquez, campus pastor at Luther College, is one of the event's organizers and has been serving as part of a task force that has crafted a vision for immigration that, he said, "reflects the needs, commitments and values of the Midwest."
Co-chaired by former Governor Chet Culver, former Mayor Richard Daley from Chicago and others, the task force was intentionally constructed with people of different political affiliations and met several times over the course of a year to work with the question of what the Midwest needs, related to immigration. It completed its report at the end of February; copies were sent to all Midwestern congressional offices, and to all senators.
"Most of the questions have addressed borders and larger cities," he said. "But our needs and our situation are not the same as it might be in other parts of the country."
Near borders, issues like "security" are at the center of the conversation. But in the Midwest, Vasquez said, the primary concern is depopulation in rural areas.
"We decided to make primarily an economic argument for immigration," Vasquez said, enlisting top business leaders to address the importance of immigration in their own areas.
"The report highlights areas where we're falling behind - as a country and as a region - because of an insufficient labor force," he said.
On the other hand, he added, "the Midwest has a history of success in assimilating immigrant communities."
The group's report includes short case studies describing the Somali and Hmong communities in Minneapolis, for example.
"Postville has been a microcosm of this story, nationwide. It is a resilient community and has been successful at integrating a broad spectrum of people," he said.
More information about the Immigration Task Force can be found at midwestimmigration.org.
A larger conversation
"After five years, we really should be having this conversation in a larger sense," Vasquez said. "In a world as inter-connected as ours -- where everything from the clothing on our backs to the food on our tables connects us to people across the globe -- it is both in our best interest and the right thing to do, to engage the conversation about immigration. As our elected officials finally turn to that long-awaited and much needed conversation, it is important that their deliberations include the experiences of the heartland of America."
For complete story and more photos, see this week's Decorah Journal