Postville Streets Empty As Immigration Officials Return

Postville streets empty as immigration officials return

By Grant Schulte
The Des Moines Register, November 5, 2008

Federal immigration agents returned to Agriprocessors Inc. on Tuesday and arrested one suspected illegal immigrant in a follow-up to a May raid, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.

The secretive operation shocked an already rattled Postville, which has struggled in recent weeks as the kosher meat plant – the city's largest employer – verges on financial collapse.

Agents descended on the plant Tuesday afternoon, said two church pastors who have helped the company's workers in recent months. Frightened plant employees then began arriving at St. Bridget's Catholic Church, they said.

'Our office is in a state of chaos,' said the Rev. Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget's Catholic Church. 'We have people coming off the streets right now in fear.'

Agriprocessors was the site of one of the nation's largest single-site immigration raids in May. Federal agents detained 389 illegal immigrant workers in an investigation that continued the national debate over immigration and led to criminal charges against a top executive.

One woman who arrived at the church said agents arrested her husband, who is Hispanic, said the Rev. Steve Brackett of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Postville. Brackett said Postville's streets emptied quickly as word spread that immigration agents had arrived.

Tim Counts, an ICE spokesman, said agents arrested one man at the plant who was a suspected illegal immigrant. Counts declined to identify the man, but confirmed that agents were still present at the plant Tuesday evening.

Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, confirmed that ICE agents had visited the plant but declined to disclose the reason.

Federal authorities typically release criminal complaints and other case information through an online registry of court records. No records connected to Agriprocessors had been posted to the site by Tuesday evening.

Authorities can detain suspected illegal immigrants without public notice if no criminal charges are filed, Counts said. He said ICE generally confirms the arrest of specific individuals if they are given the person's name.

An advocate for immigration reform criticized the federal action and its timing.

'It's appalling that the federal agents chose today, Election Day, to spread fear amongst the residents of Postville,' said Marissa Graciosa, director of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

Erica Palmer, a community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, called the action 'inhumane and destructive to our community fabric.'

Tuesday's operation followed a devastating month for Agriprocessors. Federal agents in October arrested Sholom Rubashkin, 49, a top plant manager, on immigration and identity-theft charges. A St. Louis bank alleged in a lawsuit that the company had defaulted on a $35 million loan. Iowa's Labor Department proposed nearly $10 million in fines for assorted labor violations. And the company reportedly owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alliant Energy and nearly $70,000 to the city of Postville.

Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors spokesman, did not return several phone messages Tuesday.

Brackett said that the raid and its recent aftershocks threaten Postville's future. The plant came in the 1980s and brought jobs and workers from nearly 20 countries.

'I just shake my head and think, who could think of this as a good idea?' Brackett said.


Kosher Iowa meatpacker seeks bankruptcy protection
By Nigel Duara
The Associated Press, November 5, 2008

Des Moines (AP) — Kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors has filed for bankruptcy court protection, blaming its financial difficulties on the May immigration raid on its Iowa plant in which more than 300 people were arrested.

The petition for Chapter 11 protection was filed Tuesday, a day before Agriprocessors was to meet in federal court with its biggest lender, First Bank of St. Louis.

The bankruptcy filing said Agriprocessors owes $50 million to $100 million to creditors, and estimated its assets at between $100 million and $500 million.

Agriprocessors said it is 'actively seeking new sources of financing,' and thinks it can restructure.

First Bank filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids claiming Agriprocessors was either unable or unwilling to meet its loan payments. It said the company overstated how much money it had available.

First Bank is seeking to foreclose on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville and appoint a third party to oversee the company's assets.

The bank's suit names Agriprocessors owner Aaron Rubashkin, his son and former CEO Sholom Rubashkin and slaughterhouses in Postville, Iowa, and Gordon, Neb. In addition to livestock and plant equipment, the suit says the Rubashkins' personal property should be considered collateral.

A lawyer for the company did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The plant was the site of a May 12 immigration raid in which 389 people were arrested.

The bankruptcy filing says Agriprocessors owes between 200 and 999 creditors.

Among the creditors is one of the plant's staffing firms, Jacobson Staffing, to which it owes $845,389.82. The Des Moines-based staffing company, which had served as the slaughterhouse's human-resources and recruitment arm, suspended its relationship with the company last week, but did not give a reason. The departure of the 450 Jacobson staffers last week left the slaughterhouse with about 250 workers.

The bankruptcy filing also lists a debt of $318,235 owed to the company's electricity supplier, Alliant Energy.