A project of the Center for Community Change

A Year Without a Mexican: A Postville Retrospective

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the devastating Postville raid, Marcelo Balve writes a poignant and insightful retrospective on the past year and the current state of immigration policy in our country at Mother Jones.

Indeed, the 389 arrests eliminated more than one-third of the meatpacker’s workforce and nearly one-fifth of the town’s population. It also prompted an exodus of hundreds more Hispanic residents who were either afraid of being targeted or simply opted to escape the town’s inevitable tailspin. Postville’s businesses began to suffer almost immediately. Even the Wal-Mart in Decorah, a half-hour away, called Postville mayor Robert Penrod with concerns about the economic impact. Penrod, who stepped down as mayor this month, can recall an eerie calm settling over the town, as though it were part of some Twilight Zone episode. “Before, it was all hustle bustle, and you’d see people walking up and down the streets and driving and listening to music,” he told me. “Then all of a sudden, boom! I mean nobody was walking the streets.”

Harder to quantify, but no less real, was the damage to an unusual multicultural experiment in America’s heartland. It had begun back in 1987 when ultra-Orthodox Jews came to Postville to turn the defunct Hygrade plant into the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker, which promptly became a beacon for immigrant labor. Postville proudly dubbed itself “Hometown to the World,” and despite the company’s recent attempts to recruit legal replacement workers from as far away as Palau, the motto has acquired an ironic ring. Ten months after the raid, the meatpacker, having declared bankruptcy, was operating at half-steam with a ragtag assembly of workers, and the town’s economy remains a shambles. Back in October, Mayor Penrod told CNN that Postville was living a “freaky nightmare.” And it still isn’t over.

You absolutely must read the entire piece – I promise it is worth fifteen minutes of your time. Postville has become the symbol for just how destructive and costly immigration raids can be – not just for the undocumented immigrants ICE targets, but for entire communities and even regions.

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