Parents Spared in Immigration Raids

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A federal raid on a kosher meat plant last month resulted in hundreds of arrests of allegedly illegal immigrants, but in contrast to some other raids, the action has had no effect on the child welfare system there.

And it won’t, says a system spokesman, because the immigrants “don’t trust us.”

Postville, Iowa (population: 2,200), is home to a plant owned by multinational kosher meat marketer AgriProcessors. A raid of the plant by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents resulted in the detention of about 390 workers, with about 300 of them criminally charged. Most face deportation.

But it appears that workers with children were largely spared criminal charges, at least initially. Of 83 workers who were detained but not arrested, 62 were granted humanitarian release while they awaited hearings on their cases, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids. The majority were released for the purpose of child care, according to U.S. Attorney spokesman Bob Teig.

The raid did drive hundreds of the workers’ children and relatives to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, where many stayed for days, even after ICE assured church officials that no one else would be detained.

People “slept on floors, church pews,” said Sister Kathy Thill. “They’re extremely frightened.” Most of the immigrant families in the area are from Mexico and Guatemala, Sister Thill said.

Many of the children were born in the United States, and the detained parents must decide if they want to return to their home countries and leave the children here with relatives.

If the children stay, Iowa’s child welfare system doesn’t expect them to fall in its lap.

“This community sticks up for itself,” Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Roger Munns said about the state’s immigrants. “The reason for that is that they don’t trust us. People from other countries look at government as all one thing. So not only do they take care of themselves, they’re not inclined to ask us to fix anything for them.”