Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Gazette Column
Caring for dead, injured depleting community's resources They had only been in the United States for a few weeks when an encounter with a patch of ice in the early morning hours of Feb. 4 changed everything. Nancy Lusemo, Serge Baketela and Mirielle Mbambi were three of nine people carpooling in a minivan and on their way to work in Tama when the vehicle lost control on the ice. They survived, which should make them the “lucky” ones, but the moniker smacks of indecency. Three were transported to area hospitals and released relatively quickly. Three others — Michka Kebeya, Platini Namputu and Dickson Mandiki — died in the four-vehicle crash. Kebeya was Lusemo’s husband. The couple and their five-year-old son had only been in Iowa about two months. All of…
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Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Gazette Column
Federal lawmakers will be reminded on Monday about the plight of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor who was deported a year ago, and the family he was forced to leave behind in Iowa. The Mennonite Central Committee and Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious organizations Pastor Max was affiliated with — has planned two Congressional briefings, one for senators and the other for representatives. Both are slated to discuss how U.S. immigration officials are violating their own policies. Pastor Max was removed from his Iowa City home while his wife showered, the contact part of a federal government sweep intended to target the “worst of the worst” immigrant criminal elements in the country. After entering the country in 1995, he had a 1999 DUI conviction in Johnson County, as…
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Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Gazette Column
First anniversary of deportation is only days away Many things have been taken away from a deported Iowa City pastor during the past year, but he still has his friends. Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor, was forced onto a plane March 20, 2015, and flown to Honduras. It was the first time in more than 20 years that he had set foot in the country where he was born. Left behind were his wife and their four children, the Iowa City religious congregation the couple had established and a host of loyal friends. “Max was a friend to many people and a minister of the gospel. His absence weakens his community, his family and his church,” said Roger Farmer of Washington, a member of the group aptly named Friends of…
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Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Postville’s Rubashkin has criminal case expunged

Gazette Column
This can’t be what Iowa lawmakers had in mind when they agreed last year to make some criminal records private. The legislature created a new section of the Iowa Code, 901C, to keep certain criminal records private if the defendant was acquitted or found not guilty. There are, of course, caveats. All court costs and fines must be paid in full. The case must be at least 180 days old, and the not guilty verdict cannot be due to a finding of insanity or incompetency. But, if the criteria is met, beginning on Jan. 1, interested case parties could petition to have a criminal case hidden from public records. The law change was necessary, advocates said, because the Internet makes court information more readily available. Every day, they argued, Iowans…
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Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Gazette Column
Sadness, fear and confusion. Those are the three emotions woven throughout conversations I had in the wake of a 2008 immigration raid in Postville. For nearly the same reasons, these emotions also surrounded the Muslim residents taking part in a community demonstration last weekend. The alignment is understandable, if regrettable. [caption id="attachment_913" align="aligncenter" width="640"] People of many faiths gathered on May's Island on Saturday, Dec. 19, in a show of support for Muslims and other immigrants, who have recently been targeted in political rhetoric. The solidarity demonstration was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)[/caption] Some Postville Hispanics were spared the felonious identity theft convictions faced by 389 male workers — a prosecution strategy that the U.S. Supreme Court later found lacking. Instead of being bustled…
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Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Gazette Column
From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press. Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget. Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption…
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Six months? Make your voice louder

Six months? Make your voice louder

Gazette Column
Six months have passed since federal authorities labeled an Iowa City pastor as one of the “worst of the worst,” devastated his family and deported him to Honduras. Friends and family of Pastor Max Villatoro marked the anniversary with a week of focused prayer, religious ceremony and advocacy activities. The Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious group with whom the Villatoro family identifies — continue to lead outreach efforts on behalf of the family. Church members have, for instance, launched numerous physical and online petitions calling for the return of Pastor Max. This past week, they’ve also encouraged supporters to phone the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last month, private donations allowed the four Villatoro children to travel to Honduras and be with their father for the first time…
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The view from stage right

The view from stage right

Gazette Column
Imagine the Iowa Straw Poll in its glory days. Now pretend that no one there really likes or trusts each other. Pump up the humidity and temperature to the consistency of a bowl of soup. Finally, multiply everything you just imagined by 100. That was the scene Wednesday as I crossed the U.S. Capitol Complex. A highly publicized Tea Party Patriots rally, led by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and featuring former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, was organized to oppose a nuclear diplomacy deal with Iran. Off the stage, a variety of issues were on display. Signs, T-shirts, hats and even lawn chairs offered messages regarding marriage, religious freedom, President Barack Obama, gun control, education, health care and assorted federal agencies. By the time the chorus of…
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Immigration forum will target ugly rhetoric

Immigration forum will target ugly rhetoric

Gazette Column
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. [caption id="attachment_1035" align="alignleft" width="300"] A marcher wears an ankle monitoring device during an immigration reform march through the streets of Postville on Sunday, July 27, 2008. The women fitted with the ankle devices wore them for roughly 19…
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Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Gazette Column
Rollout of the long anticipated Johnson County Community ID begins Friday, another Midwestern first courtesy of the People’s Republic. The cards, primarily offered for people who have difficulty accessing state-issued identification, have been used in some metropolitan areas for years. Johnson County will be the first in Iowa or the Midwest to give community IDs a try. Advocates — and I count myself among them — believe the cards offer an extra measure of dignity and security. All residents, even those with a state-issued ID card or driver’s license, can get a Johnson County Community ID. The cards can be used at participating businesses for discounts or other promotions. That said, they are most useful to members of the community who could be marginalized for one reason or another —…
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