It’s been a year now.
Few, however, outside of the small town of Postville, Iowa may recall what transpired on May 12, 2008.
Nestled in the extreme northeast portion of Iowa, this town of 2,200 people was visited on that particular day by two helicopters of the federal government and 900 Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents — an amount that’s roughly 40% of the town’s entire population.
The purpose: Round up nearly 400 suspected illegal immigrants at one of the town’s agri-processing plants.
It’s considered to have been the second largest workplace immigration raid in our nation’s history. Cost to the taxpayers: $5.2 million. That amount does not even account for the economic devastation experienced by the townspeople — documented or undocumented. Suffice to say, this came at a high price.
These raids have more than an economic impact; there’s a societal impact when families are split apart. And it’s not something exclusive to Postville, IA. It’s seen in places all across the U.S. from Greely, Colorado to Greenville, South Carolina. Typically, the breadwinner of the family is detained, thus leaving the spouse — and children in many cases — not knowing that person’s status or whereabouts. Now what is a single parent to do?
I found myself in the midst of a conversation with a colleague who is very overt about his faith. For a non-Catholic, he has been a very good supporter of Catholic Charities and our efforts to feed the hungry. However, he took issue with me about “your church’s social teachings.” I played along.
This colleague — and very well-intentioned Christian I would add — told me “The law is the law and it must be followed.” I responded, “You mean, like Roe vs. Wade, correct? Because that’s law now. Or are you talking about how under our Constitution African Americans were once considered 3/5ths human beings for voting purposes?” He began to give thought to what I had said. That’s not to say that he wasn’t thinking before he formed his opinion, but there is something to be said about positions formed out of ignorance….They’re typically ignorant.
When I explained to this person that such raids split up families and in most cases forced mothers and children to rely upon government sources and private charity in order to live, his eyes opened up and it dawned on him: For all of his “pro-family” rhetoric on other societal and political matters, his so-called hard-line approach to illegal immigration was now sounding quite “anti-family.” It certainly wasn’t “pro-life.”
One of the unexpected heroes during the Postville raids was a rather unassuming Catholic priest. Fr. Paul Ouderkirk was a man looking forward to a quiet assignment as he approached retirement. Instead, he found himself in the eye of a political storm. Many of his parishioners at St. Bridget parish were either employees or relatives of employees who were picked up during the raid. It was the pastor and the parishioners of St. Bridget’s that rallied to the aid of the families separated from their imprisoned spouses/parents.
Not everyone agreed with the actions taken by the faith community: “I am disturbed that local religious leaders in Postville seem to think it is immoral to arrest people who violated federal laws,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that believes in limiting immigration.
Here’s the rub: Why did these so-called “law-breakers” break federal law in the first place? I have not heard a more succinct or reasoned explanation than what I heard from Fr. Dan Groody, CSC — a so-called “religious leader.” Fr. Groody asks a very simple question: “How can we expect people to obey Civil Law, yet ask them to disobey Natural Law?” To further that point, how do people of faith reconcile their Gospel call to “Welcome the Stranger” by vociferously opposing the immigrant’s presence or right to migrate?
As the Director of Notre Dame’s Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture, Groody’s point is this: Everyone has a right to migrate to support themselves and their families. His position has authoritative backing in Blessed John XXIII who declared that while the state has a right to maintain its sovereignty and protect its borders, it simply cannot overlook the common good. Is it any wonder why so many Mexicans who are struggling in abject poverty will risk their lives getting to the U.S. so that they may have a better life?
The economic downturn and the scarcity of jobs has somewhat quieted down the issue of immigration. Nonetheless, we are still in need of comprehensive immigration reform. One of the biggest proponents of such reform was President George W. Bush. Unfortunately members of his own party managed to sabotage any legislation. There is hope that President Obama will be able to accomplish something given the large majorities of his party in both houses of Congress.
We should not have to wait for another Postville incident — or anniversary of such an incident — that gets us sound immigration reform which protects our borders and simultaneously honors human dignity and looks out for the common good.
For more information and a genuine human perspective on the issue of migration, please check out the work of Fr. Dan Groody at the following: