A trailer for the Postville documentary which you can see free tonight at ASU
The infamous 2008 raid in a on a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is of symbolic and historic significance along the lines of the 1917 Bisbee deportation and the internment of Japanese during WWII.
Nearly 400 undocumented, largely from Guatemala, were arrested. Most of them were subjected to hearings of five to ten at a time, where the feds ran roughshod over the U.S. Constitution, treating otherwise law-abiding parents and workers worse than criminals, shackling the accused, and fast-tracking their cases. Most were given five months in prison and deported.
Many of the immigrants have accused federal agents of abusing them either verbally or physically while they were in federal custody.
Of course, here in Arizona, Postville tactics are employed on a regular basis by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Postville's kangaroo courts are repeated daily in Tucson and Yuma as a part of the federal program Operation Streamline. But Postville remains iconic because of its dramatic economic and social impact on that small town, and because of the legal and humanitarian fallout that resulted.
I'm telling you all this because Postville is the subject of a wrenching documentary by Producer/Director Luis Argueta, abUSed: The Postville Raid, which will screen tonight in Tempe, free to the public, at Arizona State University's Coor Hall, Room 184, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
There will be a brief introduction with a discussion to follow the film. Argueta will be present to answer questions. The event is being hosted by state Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who also will be on hand.
The undocumented caught up in this extralegal dragnet were victimized several times: by the poverty they fled in Guatemala (to which many, with their American citizen children, were forced to return), by the raid itself, by the misuse of the law to coerce workers into accepting plea bargains, and by the abusive working conditions in the plant, which employed child labor and engaged in other illegal activities.
The owners of the plant were never prosecuted, by the way, though the company ultimately went bankrupt. Some of the workers received U-visas as a result of abuses that took place in the plant. The raid alone cost the feds $5.2 million, not including the legal price tag associated with it.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that prosecutors must show that those accused of "identity theft" knowingly stole the identity of another instead of just using a fake identity.
Though the high court found this to be a misuse of the federal statute, a similar state statute here in Arizona has been twisted by Arpaio to justify his raids of car washes and fast food joints.
"[Such laws] continue to be a hammer [used against the undocumented]," Argueta explained to me via phone, on his way to Phoenix for the screening. "A hammer that has no validity to the Supreme Court."
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The broader issue for Argueta is the self-defeating nature of U.S. immigration policy, which focuses almost exclusively on enforcement, despite the Obama administration's claims to the contrary.
"I don't understand why we spend so much money going after hard-working people who are contributing to our economy," Argueta complained.
He isn't the only one, obviously. Immigration, legal or not, is a net plus to the U.S. economy. Even the Cato Institute, hardly a lefty enterprise, has noted that.
But we're not dealing with reason when it comes to immigration opponents. We're dealing with an emotional force: nativism. And, like racism, it remains wholly immune to rational discourse.