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Immigration raid in Postville: Justice denied

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Raid in Postville

Raid in Postville

For most of those three hours, this man was just weeping, and he was weeping for his family, worried about his children. He had children back in Guatemala, his mother, his wife and his sister all depending on him. He was the sole earner for the entire family.

So describes Erik Camayd, a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami, who was one of the court-appointed interpreters flown in for the trial of immigrants arrested here in Iowa.  Here’s Amy Goodman’s set-up:

We turn now to Postville, Iowa, a small town of just over 2,000 people. On May 12th, the town became the site of the largest immigration raid in US history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, arrested 389 workers at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the country. Nearly 300 of the workers were charged with aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. Many were sent to prison.

Camayd, who’s been participating in trials for twenty-five years, describes what he saw:

Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound. Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.

Since these people are so very poor, and since they are often the only source of income for an extended family, a jail sentence may mean their children go hungry.  Even if utterly innocent, the decision forced upon them is justice or hungry kids:

I saw immediately that this man had no choice but to plead guilty, if he wanted to return to his family as soon as possible … what made this case unique was that, for the first time, at least in this scale, they were not being deported but actually criminally prosecuted and sent to jail for five months or more. And the fact that they did not have a right to bail and that if they wanted to plead “not guilty” they would have had to wait possibly longer, up to six or eight months in jail without bail waiting for a trial, made this situation very, very difficult to really say that there was justice done in many of these cases. […]

[T]o place them in that position, basically holding their families’ well-being ransom over their heads in order to induce them to accept a plea agreement and plead guilty as the fastest way to get back home and then placing them in jail for that time under that kind of duress, I think that it’s very disturbing. It’s very disturbing. […]

Indeed, it is.

It may be legal, but it isn’t justice.

Read Erik Camayd’s personal account of the raid [Download pdf]

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Written by Monte

July 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Catonsville Nine: “think less of the law, and more of justice”

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Catonsville NineJesus goes so often to the essence of things, rather than the appearance of them. Sometimes, his followers do, as well.

Forty years ago [May 17, 1968], nine committed followers of Christ entered the Selective Service Office in Catonsville. They moved past three surprised office workers, who questioned what they were doing but did not stop them. The nine quickly gathered 378 1-A draft files in wire baskets, then took them to the parking lot and immolated them with a homemade version of napalm. They prayed quietly over the burning papers until the police arrested them 15 minutes later. […]

The catalyst for this, of course, was the unbelievably brutal war in Vietnam.

By 1968, the Vietnam War was ripping America apart. Our actions seemed insane, our rationales ever shifting, our goal never clear. The impact on Vietnamese society as well as on our troops was confusing, demoralizing and deadly. What was clear, however, was that we were dropping more than 9 million tons of bombs on Indochina’s military and civilian populations. We were dropping 72 million liters of biochemical poisons on the land and its people. And, of course, there was hell’s fire: napalm. We used 400,000 tons of it.

By May 1968, the Catonsville Nine had enough. They chose to directly confront the state, to protest where the nation’s leaders had taken us. […]

Controversial? Of course. These are hard and costly decisions. But some of their argument is persuasively Christ-like:

In a play written by another of the nine, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, and based upon the trial transcripts of their conviction, his brother Philip argued: “Let lawmakers, judges and lawyers think less of the law, and more of justice; less of legal ritual, more of human rights. To our bishops and superiors, we say: Learn something about the gospel and something about illegitimate power. When you do, you will liquidate your investments, take a house in the slums, or even join us in jail.” […]

Less of the law and more of justice. Less of legal ritual, more of human rights. So relevant today. Such a deeply Christian sentiment, correcting the self-righteousness questions of legality that infect our dialog about so many issues.

Yes, that could be the voice of Jesus.

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The immigration debate: Does Jesus matter?

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A pastor-friend emailed an article about the down-side of immigration.
Here’s an edited version of my response:

Dear _____ :

The most challenging thing for me about this debate is not what liberals or conservatives think, or whether immigration has been largely good or bad, or whether or not it’s in the economic interest of the American citizen. All those are important, I’m sure, but – since we are “citizens of another country” – I wonder if they are what matters most. I wonder if this question could be more important: What’s Jesus’ example?

For instance, Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

August 17, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Immigration insights

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Michael and Katerina at Evangelical Catholicism have a useful roundup of Catholic views on immigration, as well as some others (generously, including one of mine), for a May 1 observation. They write:

Katerina and MichaelOn this day, May 1st, which is Labor Day for most Latin American countries, many in this country will flock to the streets to demand a humane and comprehensive immigration reform from Congress. Let us condemn deportation and other actions that violate human dignity. Let us pray for a humanization of the people behind the numbers and the statistics, for people to understand the difference between the violation of a civil law and a criminal law, and for a consistent ethic of human life.

I find this very right-on, and reflective of the nature of Jesus: Caring for people is more important than minding the rules. The words at EC take the debate to a nobler level. I think you’ll be inspired by what you read there.

Related Posts: Christ in the Migrant , Reclaiming America from illegal immigrants [cartoon], We want you to feel like you belong [news], “Christian” values, Jesus’ preference for the poor [sermon], We Are Citizens of Another Nation [sermon]
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Written by Monte

May 3, 2007 at 10:14 pm

“But they broke the law”

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mexicans.jpgYou hear it everywhere in the American immigration debate these days. Sometimes it's whispered in reverential awe, as if this blasphemy awaits fire from heaven. Other times, it's said with resignation, or a wise nod: Everyone knows those who break the law must pay. It is simply so.

When I hear "They broke the law," I think "You mean you didn't?"

You didn't speed on the way to work? Smoke pot in college? Drink under-age in high school? Fudge your tax return? Neglect the seat-belt? Not once?

Or, at another level: Governments – who write those laws – are also in the business of breaking them. For instance, is spying legal? Is there anything the CIA does in foreign lands that is legal there?

Or how about the American-sponsored state, Israel? Far as I know, every nation in the world except the U.S. agrees that Israel's occupation of West Bank lands is in violation of international law. Yet Israel protects its border-busting with tanks, gunships, and encouragement provided by American politicians, some of whom think it time to get tough on poor Mexicans … because they broke the law.

The word hypocrisy comes to mind.

Contrast that with the dilemma of many Mexican parents. Shall they raise their children in poverty, or shall they "break the law?" Which is the moral course?

Whose sin – that of the law-breaker or that of the law-maker – more egregious? Whose motive more noble?

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Written by Monte

May 19, 2006 at 12:32 am

Posted in Immigration