No Tearful Reunions, No Happy Endings

“When it was over, we all sat there in silence for a moment, shocked by what we had seen, waiting for the happy ending ” said Rebecca Gonzales, Nebraska Appleseed’s Racial Justice Program Coordinator.  Last Wednesday night, Appleseed, along with the NAACP Lincoln Branch, the Ethnic Studies Department of UNL and the UNL Progressive Student Coalition hosted a free screening of Luis Argueta’s film AbUSed: The Postville Raid at the Ross Theater.

AbUSed tells the story of Postville, Iowa, population 2,000. Postville was home to Agriprocessors, the largest Kosher meat-packing plant in the United States.  In 2008, federal officials from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE) raided the plant wearing bulletproof vests and brandishing automatic weapons with backup from military helicopters. ICE detained 385 of the plant’s 900 workers. In a legal process questioned even by the federal judge that took part in it, the workers were shackled, arraigned and sentenced in a local cattle sale barn.

The raid threw the town of Postville into chaos. Mothers had to chose whether to tell ICE they had children, allowing them to stay in the United States under house arrest, unable to provide for their families, or lie to ICE, be deported, and possibly never see their children again. The film documents post traumatic stress disorders and public humiliation. The town has emptied.  Businesses have closed and houses are shuttered.  Families were torn apart and children are still traumatized by the sounds of helicopters. The town may never recover.

After the film, director Luis Argueta and a panel of UNL faculty answered questions about the film and Nebraska’s immigration system. “How could this happen? How does ICE get away with this?” asked one viewer, while another questioned “What happened to the children?” The extreme cruelty of the raid, along with it’s proximity to home hit many viewers hard. “There were no tearful reunions, no happy endings – the movie just ended,” Rebecca said after the film’s conclusion.

Postville’s raid, like others around the country, tore apart the community’s social fabric, disrupting lives and needlessly separating families. In the years since, other deportation policies together with new state-level laws like those in Arizona and Alabama continue needlessly harsh treatment and family separations on a daily basis. The raid and deportations, moreover, fail to address what would be best for all of us: sensible immigration laws at the federal level that uphold our values and move our communities forward. Immigrants and immigration have long been an important part of who we are as a nation.

Many viewers of the Postville movie are surprised to find out that today’s immigration laws don’t provide any way to sign up for immigration status. For many people – there’s simply no line to get in. It’s up to us to update our laws so that they are something we’re willing to have operate in our name.

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