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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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Color-blindness and racial justice

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Liberty and JusticeMuch of the recent race debate has focused on the anger of both blacks and whites. This is new; I know white people talk to white people about feeling ripped off by Affirmative Action, and I’m told black people talk to black people about past and present inequities. But, of course, we don’t talk to each other about such things, knowing one another irrational (a excuse, perhaps, for ignorance so vast that the other seems irrational).

I read today a post on TPM by Glenn Loury (a world-renowned social science scholar in residence at Brown University) that was critical of some parts of the Obama speech on race. In a comment to that post, a thoughtful reader (AJM) added this:

clipped from tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com
On a more serious level Obama explains to whites the anger of blacks in terms of the massive wrongs done to them in this society and then turns around and equates this to the anger of whites — immigrants in particular – to whom no such helping hand has been extended. It is as though he were equating the wrongs of growing up in slum areas with slum challenges in slum schools with facing the trauma of having your child compete for college slots with black competitors who have been granted a few extra points. . . . this may be the only option if we insist on being racially blind rather than racially just.
blog it

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

April 10, 2008 at 12:39 pm

A Crop of Justice (readings for August 19)

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grapesIsaiah tells his peers that God is “looking for a crop of justice” and a “harvest of righteousness.”

Somehow, we’ve come to think of justice in a punitive sense: making sure lawbreakers get punished. But I wonder if just-ness in Scripture is meant so negatively. For Isaiah’s language here, like that of Jesus, seems to be more directed to those who turn their backs on others. His message is not vindication for the religious, and certainly not “an eye for an eye,” but a call to abandon behaviors that victimize, and to go serve the poor instead. Jesus never argues for more religion, but rather for more compassion.

It’s a point that’s often missed today. A few examples:  Despite the fact that the Israeli army kills four times as many Palestinians as vice versa, many American Christians, seeing Israel in their religious literature, assume God is somehow on Israel’s side. And despite the fact that dozens of innocent death row inmates have been set free as a result of DNA evidence in the last few years, despite the fact that Texas is about to execute a man convicted of murder whom everyone agrees murdered no one, Texas’ death-row juggernaut has been unstoppable partly because of the support it gets from Christians—who’ve come to view justice as “making sure someone pays,” I guess. And despite the fact that our neighbors to the south struggle desperately to care for their little ones – partly because of our own NAFTA and corn subsidies – we’ve come to see justice as “making sure they pay” for infractions of the civil code, rather than making sure they have enough to eat! Feeding them would be “a crop of justice,” not punishing them!  How is Jesus’ example so far from our minds?

Small wonder that Jesus, in the reading below from Luke, warned that he’d come to bring disruption and confrontation. Defending the defenseless still draws the wrath of the religious.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Monte AsburyProper 15 (20); August 19, 2007
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2,8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah 5
Looking for a Crop of Justice
1-2 I’ll sing a ballad to the one I love, a love ballad about his vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard, a fine, well-placed vineyard.
He hoed the soil and pulled the weeds,
and planted the very best vines. Read the rest of this entry »

Death by profit

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Long after midnight, some years ago, I found my son in the fetal position on the floor outside our bedroom door, in intense pain.  We rushed him to the hospital.  Pancreatitis, it was.  He received good treatment.  And in some days, he mostly recovered.

The Hurting
Image by Marquette La via Flickr

That night came to mind just now as I read these paragraphs from Sojourners:

Two weeks ago, Sam* died suddenly. He was only 21 years old, strong and healthy, preparing for a life ministering to youth. Cause of death: acute pancreatitis and previously undiagnosed diabetes. Reason for death: no access to health care to treat the incredible pain in his stomach – until it was too late. The bottom line: While angry protesters disrupt town hall meetings and national organizations spread fear-based lies, lives are lost.

The current health-care system leaves you and me just as vulnerable to lack of care as Sam was. Health-care reform is just as much an issue of justice, of preserving and celebrating life, as it is an issue of caring for the vulnerable. […]

[T]he current system “renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million with no health-care coverage at all.” […]

[A]t Sam’s funeral there were no angry shouts or accusations. There was only shock and grief among the 400 friends and family members who attended.

Had I been born in a different situation, that death would have happened at my house; that shock and grief at my church. I would still know it today.

How long will we tolerate the fact that profits are more important than lives in America?  How did we become so hard-hearted as to turn our backs on the victims of such perversion?  What kind of monsters have we become?

sig1_100w

* Name changed to protect the privacy of his family.


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