Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2008 | People

Reforms, Not Raids

By Kathryn Howe
UI graduate student Rachel Casas decries the human tragedies behind immigration laws.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Iowa making headline news on CNN? And for all the wrong reasons!
Astonished, I watched scenes of federal agents swarming the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse—in Postville, Iowa—during the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history. I witnessed some 400 workers being handcuffed and taken away—from their workplace, their homes, and their families.

Anger and sadness overwhelmed me, followed by a sense of urgency to act. Along with other members of the UI's Latino/a Graduate Student Association, I tried to muster public opinion on behalf of Iowa's immigrant community. I contacted friends and community leaders; I even co-authored an opinion piece for my local newspaper.

As a fourth-generation Mexican-American, I felt obligated to speak on behalf of members of my cultural community. It helped to know that I wasn't alone: ever since that raid on May 12, thousands of people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds have marched and held vigils across the country to protest what we consider America's inhumane immigration practices.

I understand why some people feel angry toward immigrants who unlawfully enter our country. Even within my own family, this is a complex and divisive issue. My brother, a California police officer with an image of the Twin Towers tattooed on his arm, offers little sympathy for illegal immigrants. He wouldn't be opposed to locking down our borders or making English the official language of the United States.

I agree that changes need to be made to our immigration system and that we need to keep our borders safe, but I have to question how our country approaches this issue. I struggle to reconcile that Postville raid with the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which promises that we can expect to be safe and secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. What troubles me most, though, is this inhumane approach to unlawful immigrants.

Those workers from Postville aren't terrorists; they are mothers and fathers who came here for a better life. Now, their American-born children face uncertain futures in foster homes or the impoverished homelands of their parents. The raid on that meatpacking plant won't prevent other immigrants from crossing illegally into this country; it won't prevent employers from hiring such workers.

I believe that the United States—a nation with so much global power and influence—is responsible for setting the standard for human decency. We need to identify solutions that preserve human dignity and stay true to our history as a beacon to people from faraway lands. On May 12, in the little Iowa town of Postville, I believe we failed.