MINNEAPOLIS – The arrests on Monday of 390 undocumented immigrants at a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, was a tactic to distract the nation from the failures of the Bush administration, Minnesota immigrant activists said Friday.
The raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents was the largest to be carried out at a single location. On Thursday ICE reported that some of those arrested had been charged with criminal offenses including aggravated identity theft for falsifying documents to obtain employment.
Speaking at the intersection of E. Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue, where dozens gathered to rally in support of the Iowa immigrants, several community activists condemned the raid and called it an attack on workers.
“That raid was used to cover up what is going on in this country,” said Rafael Espinosa, a union representative of United Food and Commercial Workers. “Instead of focusing on what is going on with the mortgage industry and the economy, the government is spreading fear and inciting people to deport their neighbors.”
Espinosa said that workers at the Agriprocessors Inc. meat plant were targeted because they had been trying to unionize.
Erika Zurawski an organizer with the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition said the raid was a gross violation of human rights and“a clear case of racism” and urged Minnesotans to stand in solidarity with immigrants.
“Minnesota needs to make a stance in advance,” Zurawski said. “Immigrants have been used as a scapegoat in election years. Bush can’t run the country and, to put it politely,the economy is not going well.”
Zurawski asked Minnesotans to oppose any legislation that would change the status of Minneapolis and St. Paul as immigrant sanctuary cities, which prevent police from asking residents about their immigration status or enforcing immigration laws.
Viviana Guzman, who attended the rally with her husband Ulises Duay and their 6-year-old son Kendrick, said her family came to protest the breaking of families that occurs when undocumented parents are deported.
“We need to tell people why we need to stay here,” Guzman said. “People have children and families will be separated.”
When asked about ICE’s contention that the agency is only doing its job of enforcing immigration laws, Duay, who is from Mexico City, said the laws were cruel and should be changed.
“The law is made by humans and it can be changed by humans to meet the needs of this country,” Duay said.
On the charges of identity theft, Francisco Segovia said it was wrong for the government to criminalize people for trying to feed their families.
“It is not like they went and stole people’s documents and emptied their bank accounts.”
About Edwin Okong'o - Mshale Contributing Editor
Edwin Okong'o is a Mshale Contributing Editor. Formerly he was the newspaper's editor.