Iowa faith leaders are calling for immigration reform laws that would treat immigrant workers humanely in response to recent incidents involving immigrant workers in the state.
The bishops and clergies participating in a recent tele-press conference denounced what they called a troubling pattern of worker exploitation and disregard for immigrant families around the state.
Specifically, they pointed to the government raid on a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and the abuse of clean-up crews recently brought in to help with flood recovery.
In May, government officials carried out the largest raid in Iowa history, arresting nearly 400 people from Agriprocessors Inc. – the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. The massive crackdown involved dozens of federal agents, and two law enforcement helicopters, according to the DesMoines Register.
The event reignited the debate about immigration reform laws as allegations surfaced about worker abuse, exploitation of underage workers, and unfair pay. The Iowa raid also raised concerns over who would care for the children of those detained, with some criticizing federal agents for separating families.
“Our church is responding to God’s call to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and visit the imprisoned,” said Bishop Steven Ullestad of Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“Members of the faith communities are joining together to provide care for children with no food, babies in need of diapers and families in need of homes. The toll of the devastation on Postville has yet to be measured. The impact on the children will last a lifetime.”
The faith leaders highlighted that many immigrant workers are hired by staffing agencies that do not tell them what they will be doing and provide little or no training, food and inadequate housing for the workers.
“I've yet to meet a Republican or Democrat who is not appalled when learning of the exploitation and lack of basic human decency extended to workers as they aid Iowa in its hour of need,” said the Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel, chaplain of Cornell College in Mt. Vernon.
“When 35 mostly African-Americans workers sat on a bus for 14 hours without food, or when a Hispanic gentleman from Miami works in toxic filth 12-14 hours daily then is told by management to sleep on or under the bus that brought them to Cedar Rapids, then Iowans must rise to bi-partisan moral, legislative leadership,” she said.
Other participants in the press conference this past Thursday included Bishop Alan Scarfe, Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; Bishop Gregory Palmer, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church; the Rev. Julia Rendon of the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ; and Patty Kupfer, Manager of Partnerships with America’s Voice.