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Bus Trip to Postville Protest Yields Surprises

Twin Cities Daily Planet, News Report, Julia Opoti Posted: Jul 29, 2008

Originally from Kenya, Julia Opoti lives in St. Paul and does free lance reporting.

MINNEAPOLIS This past weekend, I took a bus ride to Postville, Iowa with members of the Jewish Community Action and other representatives of the Twin Cities Jewish community. We were on a trip from Minneapolis to Postville, Iowa to protest a recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on AgriProcessors, a kosher meatpacking plant, and the draconian work conditions at the plant.

Two months ago, immigration officials arrested and charged 270 men and women with aggravated identity theft, improper use of Social Security numbers, and use of false identification cards. The raid has left the small town of 2200 deserted and desolate.

The ride from Minneapolis to Postville, Iowa was like a history refresher course led by Peter Rachleff, a history professor from Macalster College. Rachleff compared the bus rides to the Freedom Bus rides during the Civil Rights Movement, when black and white Americans rode across the states in solidarity to speak out against segregation and racism.

Folks in the bus then engaged in conversations telling their story, how they or their ancestors immigrated to the U.S. Most people on the bus, it seemed, were second or third generation Americans whose parents had come to the U.S. for better economic opportunities or to flee political persecution.

Nativism, fueled by economics and labor situations at different times in history, was and continues to be the biggest driver against immigration, observed Gideon, one of the bus riders.

Rachleff talked about the history of illegal Jewish immigration into the U.S.: in the 1920s the US government passed immigration laws that created nation-based quotas, to slow Eastern and Southern European immigration and to eliminate Asian migration. As a result, thousands of undocumented Jews came into the US.

Rabbi Harold Kravitz, from Minnetonka, spoke passionately about Kashrut and ethics. He argued that dietary laws are important in defining ethics. It is not just that Jews eat meat from an animal that has been cut the right way, but that by slaughtering the animal humanely, Jews are displaying a reverence for life.

My knowledge of the Jewish culture is very limited, so it was interesting to hear in great discussion the dietary laws. Hekhsher Tzedek is a new initiative to improve the working conditions, treatment of employees, environmental standards, and business practices in kosher food producing businesses.

With a few minutes left to get to Postville, someone with on the bus shared an anecdote: When plant workers wanted to form a union, some of them received physical threats, when he had his garage set on fire.

Perhaps it was this story, perhaps it was the massive numbers that began to descend on Postville as we did, but the group from Minneapolis was soon filled with an energy that continued for the next couple of hours as they walked and chanted around Postville.

The JCA group from Minneapolis was part of a group of 12000 protesters who descended on Postville on Sunday calling for comprehensive immigration reform and the enforcement of workers rights. The rally, attended by Jewish and Catholic religious leaders, called on legislators to give legal status to undocumented workers.

A counter-protest group of about 150, organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, rallied for the immediate deportation of illegal immigrants. Chanting Illegals go Home and American Jobs for Americans, they waved placards that read, Ask Me Why You Will Go To Hell and Stop the Illegal Immigration.

Related Articles:

The Children of Iowa ICE Raids

An Interpreter's Crisis of Conscience in Iowa

The Young Victims of Iowa ICE Raids

Raw Nerves Remain After New ICE Arrest in Iowa

After Iowa Raid, Families in Limbo

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