Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
Postville, Iowa, One Year Later: A Statement from LIRS and 16 Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
BALTIMORE, May 12, 2009—On the anniversary of the raid in Postville, Iowa, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), bishops of the Immigration Ready Bench of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other bishops of the ELCA stand together to express our deep concern over the damage to communities and families by raids, detention and other immigration enforcement actions. We urge the Obama administration to immediately reform the practice of raids and detention, and we ask Congress and the president to enact fair and humane immigration reform before the end of this year.
Impact of Immigration Raid on Postville
On May 12, 2008, helicopters and dozens of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) descended upon Postville, a small Iowa town with a population just over 2,400. ICE conducted an immigration raid of the Agriprocessors plant, apprehending 389 immigrant workers, nearly 20 percent of the town’s population. ICE officials used the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa, to temporarily hold workers. Many workers were then transferred to detention facilities in Iowa and across the country and have since been deported from the United States. Sole caregivers among the apprehended were released from detention with electronic monitoring devices, but were prohibited from working. One year later, 24 of these caregivers and their children still rely upon charities for food, medical care, housing and financial support offered primarily through St. Bridget’s Catholic Church with the assistance of St. Paul Lutheran Church. The faith community also supports individuals required to remain in Postville to assist as material witnesses in the federal and state criminal investigations of Agriprocessors.
The prosecutors used aggressive negotiating tactics, such as time-limited plea offers, and brought charges of aggravated felony identify theft against the workers, nearly all of whom were represented by overburdened appointed counsel. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the government overstepped in applying such charges.
Twelve months following the raid, devastating ripple effects continue to impact every corner of the Postville community. Hundreds of families have either been separated by deportation or have left Postville. Others remain in legal limbo, waiting for the completion of their cases. Many businesses have closed, boarding up their windows. More businesses face bankruptcy. Decreased student enrollment will likely force the Postville schools to consolidate with other school districts.
In sum, the federal government spent over $5.2 million to conduct the raid. Given the extreme hardship Postville and surrounding Iowa communities have suffered, many question whether these taxpayer funds were properly spent.
Improving Raids and Detention Policy
DHS Secretary Napolitano has signaled a positive shift to target abusive employers in worksite enforcement operations. These are encouraging indications that the new administration is taking a more fair approach. We continue to be watchful as to how the administration will ensure that future raids do not spread fear and cause unnecessary harm to families and communities.
With respect to immigration detention, however, we remain concerned that it has become a one-size-fits-all solution for people apprehended in raids as well as other enforcement actions. Individuals are often sent to multiple detention facilities as they move through the immigration court system. In fiscal year 2009 ICE estimates it will detain nearly 450,000 immigrants in hundreds of federal, state and local government- and privately-run facilities, costing U.S. taxpayers $1.7 billion. Instead of spending nearly $100 per day to detain individuals who pose no risk to the community, ICE could release them using bond, parole and other alternatives to detention, options that are more humane and use fewer taxpayer dollars.
The depth of Lutheran concern for those in detention has compelled many church leaders to visit detention facilities, hold prayer vigils and to minister to those locked inside. It is astonishing to find that people who pose no harm to others are jailed as common practice. Families with children, asylum seekers, torture survivors, trafficking victims and pregnant women are among the most vulnerable populations who end up in ICE detention. The United States is responsible for offering refuge to asylum seekers and torture survivors, but the practice of detaining those with pending civil immigration hearings actually subjects vulnerable persons to further trauma.
Mercy and Justice for America’s Most Vulnerable
President Obama has made encouraging statements about the need to overhaul our immigration system. We too see the need to fix our country’s broken immigration system and urge Congress and the president to move swiftly to enact new reforms. Our faith tradition of love, justice and mercy compels us to seek reforms that promote family unity, protect human rights and create an earned path to permanence that enables undocumented people to come out of the shadows. Without these reforms children will live in fear that their parents will be taken away, business owners will lose clients and churches will lose spiritual leaders. Reforming our immigration laws is not only good for immigrants, it is good for families, churches, businesses and communities.
On the anniversary of the raid in Postville we are reminded that harsh enforcement measures put children at risk, divided families and drove other immigrants even farther into the shadows. The raids threw an entire community into disaster and economic peril as a result of a failure to recognize that immigrants and refugees are integral to our communities and to America’s economic, cultural, social and political fabric.
LIRS offers our support to leaders in Congress and the administration as they work to pass just and humane immigration reform that upholds our country’s fundamental values. Together we can ensure that no other community has to endure what Postville has for the past year.
LIRS, a cooperative agency of the ELCA, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is the national agency established by these denominations to carry out their ministry with uprooted people.
The Immigration Ready Bench is the ELCA’s task force on immigration and refugee issues.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr., President
Bishops of the ELCA
* Denotes members of the ELCA’s Immigration Ready Bench
The Rev. Edward R. Benoway, Bishop, Florida-Bahamas Synod
The Rev. Claire S. Burkat, Bishop, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod
The Rev. Bruce H. Burnside, Bishop, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
The Rev. H. Julian Gordy, Bishop, Southeastern Synod
The Rev. Richard H. Graham, Bishop, Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod
The Rev. H. Gerard Knoche, Bishop, Delaware-Maryland Synod
The Rev. Gerald L. Mansholt, Bishop, Central States Synod
The Rev. Dean W. Nelson, Bishop, Southwest California Synod
The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, Bishop, New England Synod
The Rev. Roy E. Riley, Jr., Bishop, New Jersey Synod
The Rev. Robert Alan Rimbo, Bishop, Metropolitan New York Synod
The Rev. Peter Rogness, Bishop, Saint Paul Area Synod
The Rev. Floyd M. Schoenhals, Bishop, Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod
The Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers, Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod
The Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, Bishop, Grand Canyon Synod
The Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, Bishop, Northeastern Iowa Synod