Rabbi Morris Allen, project director of the Conservative movement’s hekhsher tzedek initiative, made a quiet visit to Postville two weeks ago to talk to some of the workers he’d met on his previous visits in 2007 and ’06.
He went with his 19-year-old daughter, not as a representative of his movement, but just to show those arrested in the May 12 immigration raid that a rabbi cares about them.
So far, 300 workers have been convicted, he says. Some are wearing electronic ankle bracelets, to make sure they don’t report to work or flee. Allen visited one woman who said she couldn’t pay her $750 June 1 rent because she was now out of work. As she was talking, Allen saw her ankle bracelet plugged into the wall for recharging. “How much more indignity can be imposed on these people?” he asks.
Allen spoke to a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who has been working at the plant for a year. The boy doesn’t go to school. “The sad thing is, if he’s deported, he will probably have reached the highest salary level he’ll ever have in his lifetime,” Allen says.
A local church, St. Bridget’s, is trying to help out by distributing money and food to those most severely affected. “Sister Mary is running as much of a social service agency as possible, taking care of several hundred people,” he reports. “It’s unbelievable to see these people walking around with GPS monitors on their legs.”
Allen’s synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, MN, is collecting money to send to the church, to help relief efforts.
But there are two sides to every issue, he adds. Downtown there’s a new community center that the Rubashkins help build. And a local minister told him none of his parishioners wants AgriProcessors to close. They depend on it for their livelihood. “He said, we certainly want to see the workers treated differently, but the success of the plant is beneficial for all of us in Postville,” Allen reports.
As Allen was leaving, he saw some Chassidic boys playing baseball, their tzitzit flying. He thought about the Guatemalan boy their same age living a few blocks away, who has spent the last year working in the slaughterhouse. “Two different versions of the American dream,” he muses.