From Naples to Postville

On May 12, almost exactly as Berlusconi’s new government began fulfilling its promise to criminalize, hunt down, and deport migrants (accompanied by some only semi-official bloodletting), U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement raided a meat-packing plant in the town of Postville, Iowa, population 2,000. By the end of the day, 400 people, nearly a quarter of the town’s population, had been corralled and shipped 80 miles away. Forgive the livestock-related verbs in that last sentence, but they are appropriate: the facility they were sent to was a former cattle yard converted by ICE for the purpose of detaining migrants.

‘They are the donkeys. They are the rats.’

The raid is the largest ever in the U.S. on a single place of business, and it captured mostly Mexican and Guatemalan workers. The reason given for it was, as it has been lately, to crack down on identity theft and forgery — though so far no one has been charged with those crimes and it doesn’t appear they will be — and, of course, to ensure security. The technics I described here largely apply to this raid, though this time there was no pretense about “cracking down on employers” — the Democrats’ kinder, gentler immigration policy — as the plant had a crystal meth lab operating inside of it, and at least one employee was tortured by a supervisor while others were expected to perform sexual favors, but still the company was not charged with any crime.

I don’t usually try to divine the reasons for such actions, but I can’t help but wonder why they chose this plant at this time for such a large-scale operation. It’s notable, though maybe not significant, that the plant is the largest kosher meat plant in the U.S. and that the town has a sizable number of Hasidic Jews. Maybe ICE was primarily thinking terroristically: create, through a massive, seemingly random raid, a desperate sense of fear that would spread throughout migrant networks. Or maybe ICE figured that Postville — a small town in a conservative state, a town that is allegedly experiencing a “clash of cultures” — was a place that would take wholesale arrests and deportations as a matter of course, if it didn’t applaud them. ICE appears to have badly miscalculated, as these video clips show. Unlike in South Africa and Italy, there have been no pogroms in Postville. Yet. Though honestly, in its wake, ICE didn’t leave a whole lot of people behind to be purged.

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