‘What Did It Achieve?’: Documentary Examines Largest Immigration Raid In U.S. History

It was a normal day in May 2008 when helicopters surrounded the tiny town of Postville, Iowa. Then about 1,000 ICE agents descended on a meatpacking plant in the town.

“What started was the biggest immigration raid in U.S. history: 389 immigrants were detained of which 287 ended up being deported,” says Univision’s Almudena Toral, who produced “America First,” a new documentary on the raid.

Interview Highlights

On the makeup of Postville, Iowa

“It’s a tiny town, 2,000 people, more or less. It was founded in 1843 by German immigrants. It’s an agricultural town in the middle of Iowa with a meatpacking plant that’s the main employer in the town. It’s peaceful, rolling hills, corn town … very cold in winter.”

On the about 100 immigrants who were detained but not deported

“Some of them — mostly women who had small children and nobody else who could take care of them — were able to stay and stay free to return to their families with ankle monitors, so they had to be monitored regularly. They couldn’t work, but they were able to stay. And some of them were able to legalize their status eventually.”

On why Agriprocessors employed so many undocumented immigrants

“This particular plant was very controversial. There were a lot of issues going on at this plant, not only immigration related. The president of the company, Sholom Rubashkin, who is an Orthodox Jew from New York, had a lot of financial dealings going on. He ended up serving time in prison for 86 counts of financial fraud, but he didn’t end up serving time for the immigration violations. There were minors that were working at the plant. There were sexual abuse cases that were documented. There was a lot of things going on at the plant that were just not right.”

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