Vigil in Cedar Rapids on Monday evening to support families affected by the Mt. Pleasant ICE raid

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Stop Separation of Families

111 7th Ave SE., Cedar Rapids — Monday, May 14 at 5 p.m.

Illustration by Blair Gauntt

There will be a vigil in Cedar Rapids in support of the families of the 32 workers who were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Wednesday. The vigil, which starts at 5 p.m., will be held in front of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s regional office at 111 7th Ave SE.

“This raid has been devastating for families in Mt. Pleasant,” said Rafael Morataya, executive director of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, which is organizing the vigil with the Diocese of Davenport.

“One reason for the vigil is to grow in solidarity with our brother and sister immigrants,” said Kent Farris, director of Social Action and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport. He added, “We need to gain the courage necessary to say to elected officials that the system is outdated, and it is not serving us well and it’s causing great harm to workers and families.”

That’s why the organizers chose to hold the vigil in front Grassley’s office, according to Morataya and Farris.

“We are hoping to see Sen. Grassley be a pro-active leader on immigration,” Morataya said. “If [political leaders] are willing to back enforcement, they should be willing to back immigration reform, too.”

On May 9, ICE agents, accompanied by local law enforcement, raided Midwest Precast Concrete in Mt. Pleasant. ICE said in a press release that the 32 men, immigrants from Mexico and Central America, had been arrested for “administrative immigration violations.” According to ICE, there is an ongoing criminal investigation related to the raid.

“I think there’s a strong chance, since it’s a criminal investigation, that they’re going to be imposing sanctions either on the employer or potentially charging the employees with criminal violations related to immigration laws,” Megan Lantz, an immigration attorney, told KCRG.

The Mt. Pleasant raid came just days before the 10th anniversary of the immigration raid on Agriprocessor’s Kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

On the morning of May 10, 2008, federal agents arrested 389 workers at the plant (those workers made up 17 percent of Postville’s 2,273 residents). The widely condemned treatment those workers received from law enforcement agencies and the federal courts led to change in federal immigration enforcement policy and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the main criminal charge against the workers. Those changes and the ruling came after more than 300 of those arrested were deported.

Ferris said he had been in Mt. Pleasant on Thursday for a prayer gathering and in Postville on Friday for a ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of that city’s raid, and saw the profound damage the raids did in both communities.

“We have an outdated immigration system and if nothing changes, we will have more of these raids,” Ferris said. He said he’s hopefully that reform is possible, noting that earlier this year Grassley had expressed support for creating some protection for those covered by the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA, whose recipients are known as “Dreamers”).

“Amidst some very difficult circumstances for 32 families, with dozens of children directly affected, I think there is the possibility to have a necessary change take place,” Ferris said.

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