By Susan Elan
Friday, June 18, 2010
The criminal trial of a Kosher slaughterhouse executive in Iowa has ended in an acquittal, while a former underage worker, now a mother, awaits word on a special visa. Denial of the U-visa means deportation to Mexico and a life of fieldwork that won't pay enough to properly feed her U.S.-born children.
Her job at Agriprocessors--butchering up to 25,000 chickens in a 10-hour workday, six days a week--was "very hard for my age," Garcia said. But the $6.25 an hour she earned paid for an apartment, clothing and food for herself and her children.
"I never went to school because I had to stay home to help with my brother who had a sick heart while my mother and father worked in the fields," Garcia said.
With no skills, Garcia would have to do farm work upon returning to Mexico, if she could find any. She would have no choice but to move with her children into her parents' one-room shack, Garcia said.
"Maybe there is work, maybe no work," she said. "And not much money, maybe $5 a day. We would not have enough money and not enough food."
For McCauley, Postville dramatizes the injustice being done to thousands of U.S.-born children of undocumented workers under current immigration policy. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to those born in the United States.
"The government is ignoring the rights of U.S. citizen children and family values by ignoring the need for the family to stay together," McCauley said. "I hope that when we pass immigration reform, we focus on family unity so that children born in the U.S. can earn a path to citizenship for their parents and the family can stay together."
Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, the former pastor at St. Bridget's, said he finds it deeply troubling that the crimes committed at Agriprocessors against financial institutions will be punished while those committed against the people who worked there will not.
Ouderkirk called Rubashkin's acquittal "a travesty." He also criticized the federal government's decision last year not to try Rubashkin on 72 immigration counts, saying it denied workers the opportunity to testify about being illegally underpaid, overworked, threatened with job termination and sexually harassed at the plant.
Federal officials said Rubashkin's fraud conviction allowed them to avoid the cost of a second trial.
"Our broken immigration system" punishes its victims and not those who profit from it, Ouderkirk said. "Postville is a microcosm of the many slave workers keeping the U.S. economy going."
Susan Elan covered politics at daily newspapers in the New York metropolitan area for more than a decade. She is now working on a Master of Public Health degree at New York Medical College.
By Susan Elan
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