Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Immigration raid: Vignettes (Des Moines Register)

Immigration raid: Vignettes

May 13, 2008

'There is nothing I can do'
Anna Lopez and Cynthia Lopez, cousins from Waterloo, wrapped themselves in a Mexican flag with a depiction the Virgin of Guadalupe on it as they stood outside the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo on Monday. Anna Lopez, 23, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said many Hispanics in Waterloo were scared of appearing in public. "They're under the bed hiding," she said.

Cynthia Lopez, 17, a student at West High School in Waterloo, is also a citizen. She said Hispanic residents of Waterloo aren't going out because they are scared of being seized by authorities.

Kim Berger, 21, of Waterloo also waited outside the Cattle Congress grounds Monday afternoon. She had family friends that had been taken in Postville, and wanted to protest their arrest. But she added: "I am afraid there is nothing I can do."

'It's a bad deal'
Jim Trappe, a five-year Agriprocessors employee, was among about 20 people who huddled around a television to watch the 5 o'clock news at a downtown Postville bar on Monday. Some in the crowd yelled profanities at the TV as immigration officials explained the situation. Some of the bar's patrons argued among themselves about the legitimacy of the raid.

"It's a bad deal," said Trappe, 53, who purchases cattle for the plant. "There's families being split up."

Trappe was in Decorah when he heard the news about 10 a.m. He stopped working, knowing that immigration officials would probably prevent his bosses from calling him. Now he's biding his time until the bosses tell him to come back to work so he can start earning money again.

Trappe, who lives in nearby Luana, said Postville residents are about evenly split on their opinions of the Hispanic population in their city. He said the longtime residents still think of it as their town, whereas newer citizens better recognize the benefits of the plant and its employees.

"Mexican workers are good people. They want to work," he said. "There are people that sit in this bar every day who could be working, but they aren't."

'For the good in some way'
Ari Berkowitz, a 15-year-old Hasidic Jew, was hanging out with a handful of friends in downtown Postville, where many of the shops had closed early in the day.

"This is the most excitement we've had in a long time," he said about the government vehicles and helicopters that descended on the plant that morning. "It was just crazy."

Berkowitz acknowledged that it may be challenging to find replacements for the 300 Agriprocessors workers arrested Monday, but he thinks everything will turn out for the better.

"It's for the good in some way," he said. "I pray that everything goes best for those people" who were arrested.

'Should have built a fence'
Dan Swaim of Cedar Falls waved the U.S. flag Monday in contrast to the protestors waving the Mexican flag in front of the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds.

"It's time for all Mexicans to head back to where they came from," Swaim said. "They're driving wages down and driving taxes up for the school system. They should have built a fence 10 years ago to keep them out."

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