Monday, May 11, 2009

Postville, A Year On

Of course, we might only be five away from "Dome's Day" -- that is, President Obama's controversial appearance at the Notre Dame commencement, now registering the disapproval of over 60 US bishops and tens of thousands in the pews... the same time, though, tomorrow marks a year since another Federal stance on human dignity wrought heartache in the Heartland: the immigration raid on an Iowa meat-processing plant that, 300-plus arrests and deportations later, "devastated" the community of Postville (pop. 2,000), leaving a trail of broken families, jobless workers, a "stain" on the American justice system and a cross-faith effort to pick up the pieces led by a priest and religious sister, both of whom shelved retirement plans to coordinate the rebuilding.

With a Jewish shofar and the tolling of church bells, an afternoon service at the town's St Bridget's church -- the hub of its now-decimated migrant community -- will lead commemorations of the raid around the country.

To aid those along, the archdiocese of Dubuque has posted the texts from the ecumenical prayer for use in points beyond... while from the capital, the US bishops released the following statement earlier today through their lead hand on migration, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City:

May 12, 2009 marks the one-year anniversary of what was, at the time, the largest work site immigration enforcement action in history. Since that raid in Postville, Iowa, larger raids have occurred, but the precedent set at Postville and the accompanying compassionate response by that small Iowa community and its people of faith underscore the humanitarian costs of workplace immigration raids as well as the need for reform of our nation’s immigration policies.

As religious leaders, my brother Catholic bishops and I understand and support the right and responsibility of the government to enforce the law. We strongly believe, however, that worksite enforcement raids do not solve the challenge of illegal immigration. Instead, they lead to the separation of U.S. families and the destruction of immigrant communities. The result of the Postville raid was family separation, immense suffering, denial of due process rights and community division.

Our religious and social response to such harm to our God-given human dignity is based on Scriptures, which call believers to welcome the newcomers among us, to treat the alien with respect and charity, and to provide pastoral and humanitarian assistance to individuals and their families.

The Postville action of a year ago is a disturbing reminder of the need to repair the nation’s broken immigration policies.

I ask all Catholics, the greater faith community, and persons of good will to commemorate the Postville raid of May 12, 2008, by remembering in their prayers those hurt by the raid and to work for comprehensive immigration reform so that others will not face similar pain and cruelty in the future.
On his Stateside visit last year, the Pope conspicuously mentioned immigration more than any other issue of Catholic teaching in the public square, praising the nation's legacy of welcoming the stranger and encouraging it forward both in his stadium liturgies and the weeklong trip's encounters with various groups, then-President Bush included.

In his all-encompassing speech to the American bishops, B16 quoted Emma Lazarus' "New Colossus" -- the poem inscribed inside the Statue of Liberty -- to the bench: "I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today," he said, "to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home.

"This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free.'

"These are the people whom America has made her own," the Pope said.

At the same time, however, given the confluence of the week's twin mileposts in the Midwest, it's important to recall that, at its purest, the spirit behind the response to both is no dichotomy, but the same "golden thread."

As last spring's Visitor said just before returning home, "In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst.

"On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!"

"Foundations" might be plural, gang... but the house built upon 'em can only ever rise as one.