Young people with handmade signs and women wearing ankle tracking devices surrounded several members of Congress to relay their real-life horror stories. Congress did nothing.
The women and young people were what was left following a massive 2008 immigration raid at a Postville meatpacking plant. They were destitute, relying on a local churches for food and other necessities.
Husbands, fathers and brothers were either awaiting deportation, or had already been deported. Nearly all were also handed a criminal conviction, ensuring they would no longer have the option of entering the country legally.
The scene in Postville was honest, albeit heart-wrenching. The Congressmen, members of the Hispanic Caucus, listened, shook their heads and hugged participants. Releasing the pain was believed to be for a larger purpose; talking it out would lead to laws resolving or easing the national tensions surrounding immigration.
Instead, it was one more piece of political theater in the drama we all simply labeled “Postville.” The scenes weren’t too different from what we viewed in the earlier drama, “Marshalltown,” just on a larger scale in terms of people and a smaller stage in terms of town size and local economy.
Each was followed with vigils, discussions, forums and every other manner of “talk.” Still, we learned nothing. If it had not been for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding identity-theft laws, nothing would have changed.
So, although I plan to attend an immigration forum in Storm Lake on Saturday, Aug. 29, this one organized by several Iowa organizations and facilitated by Kyle Munson, a Des Moines Register columnist, I can’t honestly lay claim to high hopes.
On a pre-event conference call, organizers hoped they could cut through ongoing, hateful rhetoric and, even in this hot-wired 2016 presidential contest, bring some civility to the state and national discussion.
That’s a hard slog when quasi-national leaders freely label immigrants as killers and rapists, and local radio personalities advocate a brand of immigration reform that smacks of slavery. It’s a tough sell when some believe the Mexican border should play host to a new national sport, offering $50 for every confirmed immigrant kill.
Even while I understand that I’m supposed to stand up and applaud this next foray into civil discussion on immigration, the blunt truth is that I’m a little tired.
I’m a little tired of forums where a few dozen people show up, shrug and leave. I’m tired of huge political rallies where the most offensive words possible are the biggest applause lines, and politicians are encouraged amp the ugly to rise in the polls. I’m sick of hearing that these offensive candidates are just “telling it like it is” when they are only hand-feeding xenophobic justification to the most fearful among us.
But as sick and tired as I am, I’m still driving to Storm Lake. I’ll make the drive for those women and children in Postville. I’ll be there because Pastor Max Villatoro can’t.
Most of all, I’ll pray that this event, unlike the thousands before, will result in something powerful and positive.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally appeared in The Gazette on August 29, 2015. Photo credit: Brian Ray & Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette