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Field Notes: Marking the fifth anniversary of the Postville, Iowa raid

Photo by Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

Congress is considering a massive overhaul to the nation’s immigration policy, one which could create a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. That calls to mind the biggest single-site workplace raid in our nation's history that took place five years ago on May 12, 2008 in Postville, Iowa. On that day, hundreds of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided an Agriprocessors Inc. plant, which was then the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the country. Nearly 400 plant workers – most of them undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico – were arrested. Some 300 were jailed for months before being deported.

Filmmaker Luis Argueta made a documentary about the raid and the effect it had on the families of the plant's workers called “AbUSed: The Postville Raid." I recently had the opportunity to ask him why he chose the Postville slaughterhouse as the setting for his film.

This was the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country and I think it really exemplifies the role of immigrants in food production in this country. And I say that anybody who doesn't kill their own cattle or ... grow their own vegetables is complicit in the situation that we have in this country today.

Argueta added that every time consumers buy lettuce, it is cut by undocumented immigrants’ hands and so immigrant workers are part of our everyday lives when we sit down to eat.

I also asked Argueta to recall what he heard from the Postville slaughterhouse workers about working conditions at the plant:

It was just grueling work. They did not engage in the actual killing because that is reserved for people who are certifying kosher. But they would clean and eviscerate the cattle and the chickens and quarter them and pack them. And it was extremely fast, extremely dirty, very bloody and very risky because they were working with very sharp knives that they had to sharpen as they were doing the work.

In his next documentary, "The U Turn," Argueta returns to the Postville workers to see how their lives have changed since the raid. He hopes to finish the film by the end of 2013.

Watch a trailer for "AbUSed: The Postville Raid" below. To mark the fifth anniversary of the raid, the documentary will be screened in its entirety on PBSon Sunday, May 12.

abUSed: The Postville Raid (10 Min Trailer) from Luis Argueta on Vimeo.

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