Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 7

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Thursday, December 17, 2009

After 19 months of detention following an ICE raid on an Iowa meat processing plant, about a dozen immigrant women continue to wear tracking devices on their ankles while federal officials decide their fate.



Quendi Garcia shows the monitoring device she has worn since May 2008POSTVILLE, Iowa (WOMENSENEWS)--At the age of 14, Quendi Garcia left her village in Mexico and crossed into the United States to begin her working life at Agriprocessors, a Kosher meat processing plant in northeast Iowa.

For the next nine years, Garcia worked 10-hour days, six days a week, cutting up thousands of chickens at the plant, one of the largest Kosher processing facilities in the United States, until a massive, military-style immigration raid on May 12, 2008.

Since her arrest for illegally entering the country, Garcia and her two U.S.- born daughters have depended on St. Bridget's Roman Catholic Church and its Hispanic Ministry Fund to pay for their rent, food, heating and medical bills. Garcia must wear the monitoring device 24 hours a day. She is not allowed to work or leave the state. But she is free to move about in Postville.

St. Bridget's has helped the families and underage workers who had no place else to turn after the raid, said Father Paul Ouderkirk, pastor at the church.

Garcia and many others remain in legal limbo as the Department of Homeland Security decides whether they qualify for legal residence or will be deported.

Garcia said in a recent interview that nothing she has survived--the clandestine crossing of the Rio Grande on foot as an adolescent, her years of knife wielding work on the killing floor of the slaughterhouse, the frigid winters in her adopted home--compare with the anxiety, fear, depression, sadness and feelings of helplessness that she has experienced following her arrest and detention 19 months ago on immigration charges.

She has been forced to wear a two-inch thick cube-shaped tracking device on her ankle. The electronic monitor rubs against her skin causing bruising and makes it difficult to walk.

Immigration officials have described the monitoring device in some news reports as a humanitarian measure that allowed mothers arrested in the raid to return home to their children instead of remaining in detention.

11 Women Still Held

More than a year and a half after the Postville raid swept up 389 mostly Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants, 11 women, including Garcia, still wear a monitor that takes two hours a day to charge and cannot be removed while bathing.

Some lawyers have been more successful than others in having them removed. Like so much about the case, those permissions appear arbitrary.

The detainees are prohibited from leaving the state and are not allowed to work.

Some were expected to serve as prosecution witnesses in an immigration trial that for months had been scheduled to begin on Dec. 2. Agriprocessors' former vice president Sholom Rubashkin faced 72 federal charges that included violations of immigration and document fraud laws.

Instead, those federal charges were dropped last month to avoid "an extended and expensive trial" and "lessen the inconvenience to witnesses," Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan, Jr. wrote in a motion to dismiss without prejudice.

In November, Rubashkin was convicted in a separate trial on 86 financial fraud charges that included bank, mail and wire fraud and money laundering.

The state has scheduled a status hearing on more than 9,000 counts of state child labor law violations for Jan. 6, 2010. Some of the women held in Postville are expected to testify.

No Chance to Tell Their Stories

Sonia Parras Konrad, a Des Moines attorney who has represented 44 Postville clients at no charge, said with Rubashkin facing no further federal charges many of the immigrants who remain face deportation without ever having the opportunity to tell of the abuse and exploitation they have endured.

On Dec. 15, a frigid, snowy day here, a steady stream of women and children flowed through the office of a local Roman Catholic church's Hispanic Center to seek help from bilingual legal assistant Violeta Aleman, Hispanic minister Paul Rael and bilingual social worker Bill Deutsch.

The stress of separation from loved ones who have already been deported and the worry of not knowing whether they too will be forced to return to countries where they have no hope of finding work has created a significant need for counseling, Deutsch said.

2 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments

RELATED STORIES

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Could you not call these women "immigrants". Its offensive. My mother was an immigrant. She didn't sneak across the border. She didn't steal jobs, healthcare, schooling, etc.
from Americans. She wasn't a thief. These women in your story are *illegals*. Not immigrants.

Webster states:

"Immigrant
Noun

1. A person who comes to country where they were not born in order to settle there."

I believe that your definition is off. Was the owner of the Kosher meat factory the thief? The factory owners that these women worked for paid taxes to the government from the profit of the workers' labor.

If you have no faith in God, please ignore the following comment: Bible states that we should have compassion for the immigrant, orphans, and widows numerous times, and to pay fair wages.

Compassion for others and to treat people justly is what makes us HUMAN and differentiates us from animals or anything less than sub-human.

Women's enews events

DYNAMIC DIASPORA: WOMEN AND IMMIGRATION SERIES

Series Overview

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 12

Few Care for the Undocumented With Breast Cancer

Part: 11

Nebraska Prenatal Bill Stirs Fight Over Immigration

Part: 10

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Part: 9

Deportation of Mothers in Iowa Tests Local Charity

Part: 8

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Part: 7

For Street Vendor, Another Holiday in Shadows

Part: 6

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Part: 5

Battered Immigrants in Arizona Find Few Havens

Part: 4

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Part: 3

Immigrant Survivors of Abuse Seek Freedom

Part: 2

U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse

Part: 1

U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement