Deportation Hearings Follow Iowa Raid

Most of the 400 workers arrested last week in an immigration raid on a meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa, face immediate deportation as court hearings begin. The raid affected roughly 10 percent of the town's population.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Iowa today, hundreds of people are facing deportation after a major raid last week. Roughly 10 percent of the town's population, the town of Postville, Iowa, almost 400 people were arrested in the raid at a meatpacking plant. Federal officials have called it the largest immigration raid at a single site in U.S. history. It took place at Agro-Processors Inc., the nation's largest producer of kosher beef. Among the hundreds detained, people from Mexico, Guatemala, Israel and the Ukraine. Their hearings began today. So far, sentences range from immediate deportation to time in a U.S. prison. Antonio Olivo is with the Chicago tribune. He's written about the raid, the raid which occurred one week ago, today.

ANTONIO OLIVO: Fleets of helicopters and federal government busses came racing in to Postville Monday morning, surprising a lot of residence out there, and went in to the plant, which is about a six-acre facility, and started picking people up.

NORRIS: And they've been held for the last week. Where they been detained?

OLIVO: Initially, they were taken to a makeshift detention center about 77 miles away in Waterloo, Iowa, inside the National Cattle Grounds, I believe, it's called. It's a place, essentially, for festivals and for some livestock exhibition shows and so forth. And they had brought in trailers and set up a temporary court inside a few of the trailers.

NORRIS: Antonio, there are some very strong charges made in the affidavit that led to this raid, what was said to have been going on at the plant?

OLIVO: There was apparently they are crystal methamphetamine lab inside the meatpacking plant. It is unclear who is running that lab. There was some allegations of labor abuse, in some cases, one where a worker was - had his eyes duct taped with a blind fold and then was hit in the head with a meat hook. This essentially follows a string of verbal abuse that had been going on inside the plant. Sub minimum wage, salaries that's essentially it.

NORRIS: There were also allegations that large numbers of the employees, almost 80 percent of the 970 employees of the plant were believed to have been using false IDs. Where did those IDs come from, and was the plant at all culpable in this?

OLIVO: Where they came from is anyone's guess, really. I mean, there is a thriving market for fake IDs here in Chicago. There are also fake ID rings around the country. As far as the company being involve in that, there is a lawsuit that have been filed on behalf of some workers alleging that the company was, in fact, procuring some of these fake social security numbers, essentially, and in some cases fake green cards for their workers. And in the federal affidavit, there are also some allusions to some supervisors at the plant fixing social security numbers for their workers or essentially looking the other way when they knew their identification to be false.

NORRIS: So with all this serious charges, why didn't federal authorities also focus more on the employers? What kind of penalties to the managers at Agro-Processors face?

OLIVO: As of late last week, the federal government really wouldn't given any indication whether charges were pending against anyone at Agro-Processors, who is in a supervisory role or one of the owners. Officials say that to bring charges against an employer takes a lot more time, and so they've been sort of dancing around that question. But there has been a pretty strong call to bring more charges against employers in these kind of cases, which we're finding to be more frequent.

NORRIS: How was this raid impact to the town of Postville?

OLIVO: Pretty severely, so far. I mean this essentially was a company town or is a company town built on the fortunes of Agro-Processors. When I was out there in Postville, lots of businesses on their main street, which is called Lawler Street, were closed or were empty. And people were really ringing their hands over that.

NORRIS: Antonio Olivo is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

OLIVO: Thank you for having me.

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