Report: The Two-Year Anniversary of the Unprecedented Agri Raid


agri-raid[Video report below.] On the two-year anniversary of the immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa – the largest raid in US history – PBS took an affecting look at the human cost of the government’s unprecedented crackdown. Greg Brosnan of PBS reports:By the time Willian Toj reached El Rosario, news of his arrival had spread and most of the Guatemalan village had gathered to welcome him back in gloomy silence.

Friends and relatives comforted him as he returned to his shack with his family in tow. Like Toj, others from El Rosario had left the village to find work in the United States. Many were supporting entire families by wiring money home from one small town in the American Midwest. They too would soon be deported, penniless and laden with debt.

On May 12, 2008 U.S. Federal agents arrested nearly 400 undocumented workers in a raid on Agriprocessors Inc., the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, a small farming town in northeastern Iowa.

It was one of the largest single roundups in U.S. immigration history and dramatic images flashed across the nation as workers were led out in chains. The plant’s management was jailed.

Meanwhile, up a winding dirt road in Guatemala, an economic disaster was unfolding.

More than 200 of those detained are thought to be from El Rosario and San Jose Calderas, two villages just a few minutes apart in Guatemala’s poverty stricken western highlands. The money they were sending back to their relatives had mostly sustained both villages. Now these breadwinners were either in jail or under house arrest in Postville, and awaiting deportation.

The raid had severed an economic lifeline linking the heart of the United States to one of the poorest corners of the Western Hemisphere, with an impact that had far-reaching consequences.

But this is not just a story of the hardship felt in rural Guatemala. Postville itself also faced economic collapse after losing much of its population and its main employer in the raid — all in the middle of the worst recession in decades.

The raid was carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Many criticized the agency for how it handled the raid and the prosecutions that followed, and questioned whether the government’s detention and deportation policies were effective or humane. ICE responded that “While we understand that our actions have an impact on communities, the responsibility for any disruption lies squarely with the law violators,” adding that it had been a highly successful raid “carried out exactly as planned.”

There was a Congressional review on the conduct of the Postville raid in July 2008.

When the administration changed hands, Homeland Security began reviewing all of its immigration and border security programs and policies, and has said that it would continue targeting criminal aliens and employers that flout the law. On the campaign trail Obama said that immigration sweeps were ineffective and placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families.

Immigration policy has been shifting more toward workplace enforcement and prosecuting those employing undocumented workers.

A month after the raid, my production partner Jennifer Szymaszek and I were in Postville, interviewing women fitted with immigration tracking anklets and facing deportation, amid the neatly trimmed lawns of small-town Iowa. They opened their doors and put us in touch with the families they had left behind. They were our connection to Guatemala, where we headed next.

We expected to find anxiety in the villages as a result of the raid, but were surprised by the extent of the impact — in home after home we visited, people told us stories of personal tragedy and hardship stemming from the events of May 12.

But it was Toj’s story that showed most acutely the risks and grim realities for illegal immigrants heading to America to work. The 30-year-old father of four had only been working at the Iowa meat plant 15 minutes when authorities arrested him.

He owed $7,000 to smugglers who arranged his transit to the U.S. The chances of him paying the money back were slim and he was already in danger of losing his ramshackle home. He had hoped to send money back to treat his mother’s cancer, but now he was powerless to help her.

 Click below to watch the PBS Video report:

[media id=709 width=400 height=300]

{PBS/Noam Newscenter}


  1. Wow, this was really powerful,
    Forget the Rubashkin family, The US gov basically decimated the entire town and caused anguish & grief to thousands with this ridiculous raid.

    This documentary is a real eye-opener & required viewing for anyone that still sides with the authorities…

  2. and our own brothers and sisters will continue to post negative comments on …. blog, and other media websites.

    oy oy es reist doos hartz till when!!!!!!!