To mark the one year anniversary of the Postville raid – the largest immigration raid in U.S. history at the time – proponents of immigration reform renewed their calls for new laws that protect workers and family unity.
Faith leaders joined with labor spokesmen to remind the public of the dire consequences that immigration raids have on communities. They recalled the hundreds of workers who were arrested and their children who had no one to care for them after the massive raid at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, last year.
Speakers during the media call on Monday sponsored by Justice for Immigrants and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition urged lawmakers to quickly move on creating new immigration laws.
"As we commemorate this anniversary we stand in solidarity with the 389 workers who were detained," said Sister Mary McCauley, BVM, who was the pastoral administrator for St. Bridget's Parish in Postville at the time of the raid. "We vigorously call for comprehensive immigration reform, just labor practices, family reunification and an end to raids.
She added, "We cannot permit what happened in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008 to happen to another town or group of people."
Government officials carried out a massive immigration raid last May on Agriprocessrs Inc. – the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse. Dozens of federal agents and two law enforcement helicopters were deployed in the crackdown operation.
In the months that followed, church leaders reported that many families had left Postville to find jobs elsewhere, while a sizable number of illegal immigrants stayed behind taking refuge in churches. Those that lived in churches depended wholly on charity to survive on a daily basis since they could no longer work.
Some Postville pastors after witnessing the devastation caused by the raid urged politicians and Americans to not just look at the immigration issue as political, but to look at people as people and ask why they want to come to the United States and work.
"Although you might not find famine, you will find all kinds of political and economic problems [in their home country]," the Rev. Steve Brackett, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Postville, said in a media call in December.
The United Methodist Church, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Relief, Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention have all called for immigration reform.
Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, called the current immigration policies "broken."
He said that although he understands the "right and responsibility of the government to enforce the law," the Postville raid did not solve the problem of illegal immigration but further added problems such as family separation and destruction of immigrant communities.
"Our religious and social response to such harm to our God-given human dignity is based on Scriptures, which call believers to welcome the newcomers among us, to treat the alien with respect and charity, and to provide pastoral and humanitarian assistance to individuals and their families," Wester said.
President Obama in April stated that he intends to start the process of developing a new immigration system this year.