NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting today from the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, Iowa.
Immigration is an important issue for many Republican voters around the country, very much so here in Iowa. Last December, the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, conducted raids on six Swift meatpacking plants around the country, including one in Marshalltown, Iowa, a city some 26,000 people located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines.
A year later, we're here to talk about what happened, why, and how it changed one city, a long way from the Mexican border. We'll speak with the mayor of Marshalltown, with a resident who helped families that day, and with an official from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Later in the hour, a performance from "Caucus! The Musical." But first, the raid in Marshalltown. And we want to hear from you. If you're in Marshalltown or another place where there's been an immigration raid, what's been the effect where you live?
Our number, as always: 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And we begin with Jerry Perkins, farm editor for the Des Moines Register. He reported on the raid at the Swift plant in Marshalltown, and joins us here at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines. Nice of you to be with us today.
Mr. JERRY PERKINS (Farm Editor, The Des Moines Register): You're welcome.
CONAN: And what did you see that morning at the Swift plant?
Mr. PERKINS: Well, I got there soon after the raid started early in the morning. And it was a complete chaos outside the plant. It was close to Christmas and the plant was decorated with a Santa and a sleigh being pulled by 12 tiny, pink pigs. And so there was that kind of a surreal atmosphere that here, we were close to Christmastime and then there were what looked to be like several hundred federal agents wearing ICE jackets with I-C-E written on the back, and about 50 to 75 people standing outside, some crying, some wringing their hands - all very concerned about relatives who are inside the plant.
CONAN: And what did they tell you?
Mr. PERKINS: Well, various stories. Some were worried that their relatives, members of their family were going to be deported. Some were just caught up in the excitement and were there to show solidarity for people who are inside the plant. And there was - there were a number of people who were there from community organizations who were there to show support.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And what happened to those people inside the plant, when you were able to find out?
Mr. PERKINS: Well, they - it was also a very telling incident. They would bring the people out of the plant, people who they suspected were - didn't have the proper documents, still dressed in their coats, their white coats that they wear when they're on the kill floor.
Many of them had blood on them from, you know, from processing hogs, and their hands handcuffed behind their backs. They would bring them down a long stair and put them on the buses. And then once they had a bus full, it would exit the plant, drive by the people who were congregated outside. And there would be, you know, raised right fist as the bus went by, and people chanting el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido, which is kind of a pan-Latin American solidarity slogan that people chant in situations like that.
CONAN: And those family members who worry that some of their family members might be deported, they had good cause to worry.
Mr. PERKINS: Yes, they did. It was interesting. Out of the 1,200 people who work on that shift, which is about 7 - it runs about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Out of the 1,200 people, there were only 96 people who were detained. It was a very, very small number.
And judging by the number of buses parked outside the plant, it was pretty obvious that the ICE people expected a lot more people to be taken out. Where they went, that was also a big bone of contention. We had trouble - and family members had trouble finding out where their loved ones had been taken.
CONAN: Okay. And let's bring another caller into the conversation, another voice into the conversation. And that is Martha Garcia. She joins us from Marshalltown, Iowa, where she's a realtor. And thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. MARTHA GARCIA (Realtor, Marshalltown, Iowa): Thank you for inviting me.
CONAN: And you were one of those people that Jerry Perkins might have seen outside the Swift plant in Marshalltown that morning?
Ms. GARCIA: Yes, I was.
CONAN: Why were you there?
Ms. GARCIA: Well, usually, I help the community in one way or another. In that case, some of my clients called me and told me what is happening. And I just got out of the shower when they called me and said it's ICE, and then Swift. And, well, I got dressed. I called another of my friends and I told her if she can go with me. And we went over there. We forgot gloves and we forgot scarves, got nothing. I only get my jacket and I get over there.
We walked outside, trying to see what they're doing because when they get the people out of the plant, they were handcuffed. And also people are coming to drop papers because, of course, when you go to work, you don't carry your work permit or your resident. And it's people bringing in papers and they are too -and just congregated and they're waiting to see who is going to be deported and give some support.
CONAN: And of those 96 people who were taken away that day, well, how many of them came back, or have they've been deported? I know some of them were charged with crimes.
Ms. GARCIA: Well, yeah. We are not sure how many people coming back. It's probably nothing here in Marshalltown. We have knowledge, like, some people coming back again illegal because they don't have another way to come in. And they live in here, house, relatives, either family, close family like a son and kids and husbands.
CONAN: Now, those are the people who were directly affected there - the people worked at the plant, their family members, but these affected people who were never even anywhere close to that Swift plant that morning.
Ms. GARCIA: Oh, yes. Like for me, I don't have any relative working in the plant, but I still have goose bumps in my body, remember what happened. And I hope, I pray I never pass again for one experience like that one because it's very traumatic and it's so sad, so sad.
CONAN: And how did it change the town, do you think?
Ms. GARCIA: Well, we never find out like we are a sole unit until that time because the raid finished, and we get into the our close church and a lot of people congregated in there because they know the (unintelligible) is going to have news, it's going to be the church because we have a really good leader, Sister Christine Feagan. She's really a good leader of the Hispanic community. And she starts calling ICE, calling places, calling jails and find out where is the people and find out what happened with the kids in the school because in some situations, both parents was taken by the raid and the kids are alone in the school.
Also, we have another situation like we're thinking, well, what happened with the parents. I mean, they all parents who stayed in homes and they don't know his son or his daughter is in the raid and was deported, and they cannot be alone in the house because like, you know, Hispanic community most of the time taking care of his parents.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. There was one other story I wanted you to tell us from that day. Your son was shopping at the local Wal-Mart.
Ms. GARCIA: Oh, yes. That night, my son went with another colleague to the Wal-Mart because they are never seen - I think that everybody was affected. And he say, Mom, we need to get out of the house and thinking in something else, not the raid. And he went to the Wal-Mart and they were shopping, and people were staring of them, and my son looked at the people and say, what happened?
And one old lady come in and say, oh, I'm sorry, you were not taken by the raid? And my son got so mad and told the lady, ma'am, we are not criminals. I'm born in United States and I'm American citizen, I'm sorry. And this is some of the sequence of what happened when it's a raid, and we receive this treatment for a lot of people and we feel suffering now.
CONAN: We're talking about what happened a year after an immigration raid in Marshalltown, Iowa. If there's been an immigration raid near where you live, call and tell us how it's changed things there: 800-989-8255. E-mail us: email@example.com.
And let's go to Steve(ph) and Steve is calling us from Falmouth in Massachusetts.
STEVE (Caller): Yes. Hi. Falmouth is kind of just down the road from the New Bedford, which had a very big ICE raid just about six months ago, I think.
CONAN: It was March, yes.
STEVE: And there were numerous families that were disrupted and the community was terribly impacted. But I have to say, I'm calling to say I agree with the raid. I'm a Democrat, surprisingly, and I think that people who come here illegally know the risks, and they're coming here for economic reasons rather than attempting to change their own countries.
If you look back at American history, in World War II, there were people who were coming here to flee this until - and they were sent back. They weren't coming here for essentially economic reasons. So I think it's arrogant to think they could come here and just obtain American citizenship by skirting the law. That's my opinion.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you, Martha Garcia, your response to that. A lot of people, even talking about the conditions of the children who found themselves without one or sometimes both parents after an immigration raid, say, look, it was…
Ms. GARCIA: Yes.
CONAN: …those parents who chose to bring their children here. It's their responsibility.
Ms. GARCIA: Yes. And I want to tell the guy who just called he don't know what is the process. It got me 22 years for be a citizen. I mean, it's none like I can come in and I can request to be working legally in the United States. That is a lie. It's a big process. I spent probably around $25,000 for became a citizen, and it's not an easy process.
STEVE: Well, I'm still here. I'm not saying it is an easy process. I'm saying that perhaps the citizens of your country could put their efforts into making their own country a more equitable place in which to live.
Ms. GARCIA: Yeah, in ways, I can be. I can be in there, yeah, and have something else we can do it over there. Yes, you're right.
CONAN: All right. Steve, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And we'd also like to thank Martha Garcia, who joined us on the line from her home in Marshalltown, Iowa. Appreciate your time today, Martha.
Ms. GARCIA: Oh, thank you so much for inviting me.
CONAN: We're talking about the immigration raid in Marshalltown, Iowa last December and its impact on that community. In a moment, the director of investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement joins us. We'd also like you to join us. If you live in a place where there's been an immigration rate, how has it changed things? 800-989-8255. You can also reach us by e-mail. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.
We're broadcasting today from Iowa at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines. And we're talking about an immigration raid last December in Marshalltown, Iowa, where dozens of people were arrested at the Swift meatpacking plant there. And thanks, in part, to that crackdown, immigration is an increasingly important issue in the state. We'll hear from the mayor of Marshalltown in a few minutes.
Our guest is Jerry Perkins. He reported on the raid at the Swift plant for the Des Moines Register. If you're in Marshalltown or another place where there's been an immigration raid, what's been the effect where you live? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. E-mail us: email@example.com. You can also share your stories on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Wayne(ph), and Wayne is on the line with us from Phoenix, Arizona.
WAYNE (Caller): Yes. I'm kind of confused. I don't understand what the, you know, illegal immigrants think that we should do as American citizens? Just continue to let them flood our country and not have any type of response to that? Being in Arizona, I see it - it's huge here. I mean, the non-English-speaking people here could easily take control of the state because we don't have any laws that prevent them from registering to vote. And I'm just - I don't know. I hear this day in and day out that nobody really says what it is we're supposed to do.
CONAN: It's an interesting…
WAYNE: Do you have somebody that can answer that?
CONAN: Well, we can put it to somebody who has - can sort of turn it on its head, if you would wait just a second, Wayne. But we're going to thank you for our call.
WAYNE: All right. Thanks.
CONAN: And let's go now to Washington, D.C., where Marcy Forman is. She heads up the office of investigations for Immigration and Customs enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security. And it's a pleasure to have you on the program today. We appreciate your time.
Ms. MARCY FORMAN (Director of Investigations, Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement): Thank you.
CONAN: And I just wanted to put Wayne's question to you. When your agents encounter illegal workers, is there any option other than to arrest them?
Ms. FORMAN: Generally not. I mean, ICE has, you know - is charged with enforcing the immigration laws, and we are obligated to do so.
CONAN: Now, last year, as we mentioned, ICE conducted those six raids on Swift plants around the country, arresting more than 1,200 people in that one day. Since then, there had been sporadic raids at other plants around the country. Is ICE accelerating the use of these raids?
Ms. FORMAN: ICE is enforcing the immigration laws, and we have made worksite enforcement a priority. It is certainly part of the Department of Homeland Security Secure Border Initiative in terms of addressing violations in the interior.
CONAN: But clearly, there had been more raids in the past 12 months or so than there were in the previous 12 months, and more in the previous 12 months than in the 12 months before that?
Ms. FORMAN: Yes. ICE's worksite strategy is that we first target those areas that we identify as critical infrastructure. Those are the areas, such as our airports, seaports, nuclear power facilities, military installations, that have unauthorized workers. We certainly want to make sure that individuals that have access to those areas should have access in this country legally. Our second tier are those that are employed by what we identified as egregious violators -individuals who've built their model of employment based on illegal workforce.
CONAN: On that day, December 12th, you arrested about 10 percent of the workforce so the Swift Company's meatpacking plants in several states. Is Swift & Company an egregious employer?
Ms. FORMAN: Oh, yes they are. They would be categorized as an egregious employer. Based on our investigation and our investigative leads, we had identified approximately 30 percent of their workforce as potentially illegal.
CONAN: They've not been charged?
Ms. FORMAN: No, they haven't, but there have been 274 other individuals who have been charged with criminal offenses. These are individuals who gained employment by using identities of U.S. citizens or who had conducted other illegal activity, which subjected them to arrest.
CONAN: A lot of people would say these 1,200 people you arrested - well, okay, they may have committed crimes. But they're little guys. That egregious employer, they seem to have gotten off.
Ms. FORMAN: Well, I will tell you, the investigation is still ongoing and we're still pursuing leads. But we have charged the human resource employer at Swift and we also charged a union official. And this investigation is still ongoing. But these individuals, I wouldn't look at as little people - these individuals who have come into this country actually broken the law. It's a continuum. In order to get into this country, you're required to have legal documentation.
These individuals have come in to this country more often than not smuggled into United States - another criminal offense. In order to get employment, they need documentation. In order to get that documentation, often, they go document vendors who sell these documents oftentimes fraudulent. And then these individuals use these fraudulent documents to get employment.
CONAN: And another point, those raids last December 12th, collectively, they were the biggest immigration raids I guess ever but 1,200 people you've picked up - there's an estimate at 12 million illegal people who are here illegally in this country - this is just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. What kind of effect can it have?
Ms. FORMAN: It certainly does have an effect, and the Swift enforcement action certainly had a large deterrent impact. We have corporations that are calling us on an every day basis, asking us what they can do. And that's important because we want corporate America to police themselves because we do have a limited number of resources. And we're going to be efficient in the use of those resources and target those individuals who, once again, are the egregious violators or who represent our critical infrastructures in this country.
CONAN: And has ICE - we mentioned the Swift Company in particular but in general, gone after these egregious employers. Are they ending up in court?
Ms. FORMAN: Yes, they are.
CONAN: All right. We've heard some criticism about the way ICE conducted the raids in Marshalltown last year and in other places in terms of how they treated the children of various employees, kids who were stranded in school when one or both of their parents were picked up. And just last week, a federal appeals court in Massachusetts said during a raid in New Bedford last spring, ICE officials, quote, "gave social welfare agencies insufficient notice, that case workers were denied access to detainees until after the first group have been transferred, and various ICE actions temporarily thwarted any effective investigation into the detainees' needs," unquote.
I wonder, how do you respond to such criticisms?
Ms. FORMAN: You know, all I can tell you is that I wish I had oversight over many of these raids, and I will tell you there has not been one instance where a child had been left alone and not left with a responsible adult or put in the custody of a child protective services. And ICE stands by that.
CONAN: And ICE stands by that. If we provided you with documentation where people said there were - to the contrary?
CONAN: I will be certainly be open and receptive to looking at that. But to date - and these raids have taken the - I mean, the Swift raids took place in February 2006 and the Boston raids took place approximately in March. We have received nothing to date that would lead us to believe that any child was left behind.
CONAN: All right. Well, we'll try to follow up on that, and we appreciate your time. But one final question for you - and we know you're really busy today and we thank you for your time. But there's been speculation that, in fact, raids like this are designed, well, I guess in part for deterrents, I guess in part to punish people who are here illegally, but also in part to try to persuade Congress to get moving on immigration reform. Is that an accurate perception?
Ms. FORMAN: All I can tell you is ICE is a law enforcement agency. And as a law enforcement agency, we're obligated to enforce the laws that Congress enacts, and we're not policymakers. We're just law enforcement agents, and we'll enforce the law.
CONAN: Okay. Marcy Forman, again, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.
Ms. FORMAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Marcy Forman, director of investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security. She joined us on the line from her office.
Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Rick(ph). And Rick is calling us from Geneva, New York.
RICK (Caller): Hi, Neal. I'm just outside of Geneva and I'm a grower. We've got some apples and grapes and pears and things like that. And we've had a number of raids up here. We're in the middle of nowhere in the western part of New York state that most people never ever picture.
And I have nothing against ICE. They're doing their job. But literally, if we didn't have the Mexican kids around here, we wouldn't be able to pick our fruit. And I don't know what people want to end up paying for things in the supermarket, but the reality is the few times that they've come through here this past summer, fruit was rotting on the trees, and it's not for lack of trying. We can put ads in the paper. We'll get 12 or 15 people from town that are saying they're coming, and two show up. The American-born folks just don't seem to want to do this work, and yet it's…
CONAN: Can I ask you a question, Rick? At what price? What are you paying these people?
RICK: These guys, it's interesting because, you know, I noticed that the ICE spokesperson there said that they charged a union person. So we also go through union people and team leaders. It works out to about $100 a day. But they work hard. They work - they prefer to work for piece instead of per hour and they want to know that they can make $100 a day minimum, and some of them work a lot harder than that or work more than that. But it's a lot more than the minimum wage and it's a lot more than what people are getting paid as social workers around here by the local county governments and things like that.
CONAN: And I wonder, has it had an effect of people like you contacting your local member of Congress and saying, look, we've got to do something about this?
RICK: We've got a local member in Congress who's a Republican that does whatever the Bush White House tells him. And for a while, he was looking favorably upon the problem that the growers have. But then, whatever reason, I guess, they decided that immigration should be a Republican issue, so they've all shut their mouths on it. It's hard to get any traction.
And I don't disagree that - we're not trying to break the law up here and get anything for nothing. The ICE people are doing their job. But there isn't any alternative, especially in some of these rural areas, it's a lot more difficult than people think. I don't think people should break the law. On the other hand, people have to decide how - what kind of jobs they're going to do, you know? It's not the Mexican people coming across the border that are sitting on welfare. They can't get it.
CONAN: Rick, thanks very much for the call. I appreciate it.
RICK: It's a pleasure. Thanks for your…
CONAN: And let's turn back to Jerry Perkins, the farm editor for the Des Moines Register. And Jerry, I've read that as much as 70 percent of the crops in America are picked by people who are in this country illegally. Is that the case in Iowa? Has his - the problem that he reported in Upstate New York been repeated here?
Mr. PERKINS: There are corn detasseling crews, where they have to go through a cornfield and cut the tassel off the corn. They heavily use workers on the A-1 visa for agriculture workers. There are some farmers - dairy…
CONAN: A-1 visa, that means they're here legally.
Mr. PERKINS: Yes.
CONAN: They're brought in especially for this particularly time of the year…
Mr. PERKINS: Yes.
CONAN: …and the same thing with crab pickers in Maryland and various other places.
Mr. PERKINS: And dairy producers and the few vegetable producers that we do have in southeast Iowa.
CONAN: Okay. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Amanda(ph), Amanda with us from the north slope of Alaska. That's a long way away from here. And I bet even colder than Des Moines.
AMANDA (Caller): A little bit colder than Des Moines currently. But I was born and raised in Marshalltown. And just one thing that seems to never get out into the public that people know is that that raid that has brought so much controversy was actually the second raid that happened in Marshalltown. The first raid that did happen actually took almost 75 percent of the employees in one shift because there were so many illegals working in the Swift plant.
The second raid was actually known that it was going to happen. Swift had been told - and I believe that for every illegal at their town there, they're going charge them approximately $5,000 for each one. So it was a known fact. But…
CONAN: At least, officially, Amanda, the ICE says that the employer was not informed of the raid in advance. So that's the specific.
AMANDA: Well, they were too, but they weren't given a specific date. But it was known that it was going to happen. It was a very well-known fact around town. And…
CONAN: Jerry Perkins, is that - was that guys is that - was that your impression that it was inevitable - raid was inevitable in Marshalltown…
AMANDA: Yes. It was very inevitable…
Mr. PERKINS: Well, there had been some federal court action between Swift and the federal government down in Texas. But I don't believe many people in Marshalltown knew or suspected that there was going to be a raid on the day of the raid.
AMANDA: I completely disagree as a resident of Marshalltown.
CONAN: Okay. We'll have to agree to disagree on that.
AMANDA: Yeah. And - but the thing is that was - you know, really disturbing was that a lot of people took the side of these illegals that were deported. And - but the fact is not only did they lie to them once about identification but they lied to them twice when it comes to being both parents that were working in a Swift plant. They were asked, do you have any children that are here. If you do, you need to let us know. Well, they - many of those parents said no, out of fear, you know, likely so. But then when they were deported and then the federal agents were criticized for that action. But they were lied to, you know, not once but twice.
CONAN: Okay, Amanda.
AMANDA: So who's fault?
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. I appreciate it. And stay warm, will you?
AMANDA: Yup. Thanks.
CONAN: Okay. Bye-bye. We're talking about the aftermath of raids almost exactly a year ago, particularly in Marshalltown, Iowa. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's bring another voice into the conversation here at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, Gene Beach. He is the mayor of Marshalltown. He drove down about an hour away. And we appreciate it. Mr. Mayor, you're taking the time to be with us today.
Mayor GENE BEACH (Marshalltown, Iowa): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And you were nodding your head when Amanda was saying that a lot of the ICE officials were lied to, that the parents understandably declined to say that they had children living in town and that needed to be taken care of.
Mayor BEACH: Well, right after the raid, we were in contact with ICE, trying to find out who really had been detained. And we were not able to get those names. I could understand as well that the names they were working under were probably not the real names, so it was a difficult time to try and figure out who was detained and who wasn't.
But I do - I was told by an ICE agent after I called them the next day through our senators that they were told at the plant that if you have either a child or a dependent adult at home, raise your hand, you'll be sent home and you'll have to appear at a later time. Undoubtedly, fear did play a big part so they did not raise their hands and were both taken.
CONAN: Now, Swift is the largest employer in Marshalltown, but not the only company in town by any stretch of the imagination. But the town has changed dramatically over the past 15 years.
Mayor BEACH: Well, yeah, exactly, now, in 17 years, actually. 1990 was when the packing plant first started hiring Hispanics who came up here to work. It is our largest employer with 2,100 employees. But we do have a diversified industries with Lennox and Fisher and Racom and Marshalltown Company. So it is certainly not just dependent upon Swift.
But when Swift did have the raid, there was a major impact on the community. But it was more emotional than economic because this occurred just before Christmas. And the minute the raid happened, all of the town leaders, the church leaders, all of the educators, the school systems, the city, got together and the first thing we did was to make certain that no child was indeed at home alone. And none were.
CONAN: Now, what percentage of the population of the town is Hispanic now?
Mayor BEACH: Well, officially with our last census, it says 12 percent. But as our last census also said we have 26,008 people, I think that's a miscount. I think we're closer to 28 to 30,000 people, and our Hispanic population is really closer to 20 percent.
CONAN: And a lot of people say Marshalltown has, in fact, been revitalized to a degree by the immigrant community.
Mayor BEACH: Well, I would have to say that's true. The population that I quoted is 26,008 is identical to what it was back in 1980. Had the Hispanics not come in and set up businesses - for instance, we have 44 businesses owned by Hispanics in our community today that had they not come in and brought their culture and basically revitalized our school system as well, even though there are pressures there, we would be a different community.
CONAN: All right. Stay with us, if you would, Mr. Mayor. I'd like to thank Jerry Perkins for his time. Jerry Perkins joined us here in Des Moines, where he is the farm editor for the Des Moines Register. I appreciate your time.
Mr. PERKINS: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And we want you to stay with us as well. We're going to continue talking with Gene Beach, the mayor of Marshalltown, Iowa, about immigration and how it's affected his town, and immigration raids and they've affected his town.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, Iowa.
We're spending much of this hour talking about the immigration raid in Marshalltown, Iowa, and how it affected that community. We also want to talk about that city and its Hispanic population, which has grown significantly in recent years, a trend that can be seen in the cultural identity of the city. The mayor of Marshalltown, Gene Beach, is still with us here in Des Moines.
And Mayor, I wanted to ask you, I know Marshalltown has a couple of official sister cities. It also has a couple of unofficial sister - one unofficial sister city in Mexico.
Mayor BEACH: Well, that's definitely true. Most of the immigrants we've received from Mexico have come from the city of Villachuato. And we were fortunate enough through a university professor at University of Northern Iowa and the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation to fund a bunch of people to go to Villachuato. And they were our former mayor, the police chief, several educators that went - and medical people who went down to the community to see where the immigrants were coming from. And it gave them good insight as to why large numbers of them decided they wanted to come to Marshalltown.
Interestingly, they also indicated that while they were there, they noticed a large number of 64 County pickups, which 64 County is Marshall County. So it has developed into somewhat of a sister city state as rather unofficially.
CONAN: And it's a symbiotic relationship. This town in the city of Mexico needs Marshalltown and you need them.
Mayor BEACH: Oh, definitely. You know, it's purely economic. And the people who are critical and saying that the laws are being broken only for economy, that's definitely true. Iowa - Marshalltown has probably close to 3 percent unemployment, which is as close to full unemployment as you can get. And we need workers.
I go to industrial bureau meetings on Fridays of the first of every month. And I hear the same thing from all of the leaders of our industries. We need workers. And they don't all have to be unskilled workers. There going to be a shortage of skilled workers in, you know, our factories in Iowa, about 150,000 short by the year 2012. So there is a shortfall of workers in Iowa. And right now, the packing plants, they are definitely utilizing the illegal immigrants, as well as legal immigrants.
One of the things that I keep pointing out to people in Marshalltown is that not everybody who's brown is illegal. And it's a hard concept for them sometimes to understand. You know, and they will say, I don't care - I don't dislike Mexicans. They're welcome to come here. But I want them to learn my language. I want them to - you know, they start putting the preconditions on them. And I jokingly say, you know, we're basically white Anglo-Saxon community. And I sort of jokingly say that you don't want Hispanics. You want brown Germans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: It's a city, as you point out, that hadn't really changed, certainly not the demographics of it for decades, and then 17 years ago, began to change. I know that there is a lot of tension that comes when a different ethnic group, a different lingual group comes into a town. I saw you wince earlier when our earlier guests, Martha Garcia, was talking about the experience of her son in the Wal-Mart in town the day after the raids and hearing somebody say, gee, why didn't they pick up you in the raid.
Mayor BEACH: That's totally discouraging to me because Marshalltown had made really great strides prior to the raid. And the raid indeed set us back 10 years in forming a real community. Those kinds of comments are really unfair. Martha Garcia pointed out something really important. She worked for, like, 22 years to become an American citizen. No path to citizenship should be that difficult. We heard recently of a fellow from England who came to Iowa, loved Iowa, wanted to work in Iowa, and he was told it would take 17 years for him to get a work permit to come to Iowa to work. That's inexcusable.
I mean, I have a traditional history in my family that came with the Puritans. Some came over as Hessian soldiers. Some were Irish people who came over. They did not have quotas to pass. And I guess - I don't know why they make it as difficult today. There must be some way and - to make them legal. I'm not saying amnesty, that's the buzz word that everybody hates. But I'm saying there has to be a pathway to allow people to come to this country and work and become citizens.
CONAN: Let's get our last caller on the line on this subject. Diane(ph) is with us, Diane calling from Jacksonville in Florida.
DIANE (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Diane. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANE: Yes. I would like to say that they had a raid in our area about six or seven years ago. And there were 40 husbands taken before dawn from their homes by the local sheriff's department and police and other law enforcement agencies. Their wives and children were left behind, of course. And who knows where the husbands were taken. They left these families without the husbands and the fathers. The mothers were left to fend for themselves with the children that they had, and many of the mothers were working also.
I have worked with a number of the Hispanic families in our area and they have been wonderful, devoted families. I have not seen any parents that were more devoted to their children than the Hispanic families that I have worked with. And these people are coming here to escape a terrible life in the country of Mexico. And so the caller that said they should stay there and improve their own country, it's obvious that person has never been to Mexico.
The border towns are just unbelievable. And also, I'm a U.S.A.-born citizen and I just think there is so much hypocrisy in this country that they talk about what a Christian country this is and how we open our arms to everyone. And it's just a bunch of lies. And I have just - I have just gotten sick of it.
And I wanted to say also, I was travelling in Escondido, Mexico some years back. And they are building great, big, expensive condos down there, which a lot of the people from California and other parts of the United States that have money are going down to get out of the United States because they can live much cheaper there and they don't have the income tax and all of the other things that we have here.
And my feeling about the whole thing is that this country does not want anybody coming in here unless they have money. And the people that are coming in and taking these jobs, they are jobs that so many of the American people that are unemployed will not take. And thanks to welfare and our drug business in Florida, they don't have to take those jobs - doing farm work and harvesting the crops and all of this. And I…
CONAN: Okay, Diane…
DIANE: …have said enough.
CONAN: Okay, Diane, thanks very much for the call. I appreciate it.
DIANE: Thank you.
CONAN: And just one final question for you, Mayor Beach, and that is, a year after these raids - we've talked about the emotional impact - has the rift been healed?
Mayor BEACH: I think it's pretty much healed. We have done a lot of things in the last year that will help heal that. We worked with - the American University Women have put together a program to help mentor young Latinas and we have a special Marshalltown education partnership with the hospital and the college that would encourage any person who's - be the first person to go to college. If he wants to do that, he can sign up in the eight or ninth grade. You got to keep an attendance, a very positive attendance. Some mentoring, good grade point and he'll get free college education at Marshalltown community of that college.
So we've done a lot with the business people as well, and I think that we've been pretty successful in bringing the community back. There was no question -great fear right after the raid. But that's disappearing.
CONAN: All right, Mayor, Thanks very much for your time. We appreciate your making the drive down from Marshalltown.
That was Mayor Gene Beach of Marshalltown, Iowa.
Stay with us. Coming up, caucus, the musical.
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