May 12, 2008: Largest Illegal Immigrant Raid in US History (Postville Raid)

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A Brief History

On May 12, 2008, the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, was the scene of the largest anti-illegal immigrant raid in the history of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the US Department of Homeland Security. Arrests for identity theft, document fraud, social security number fraud and other fraud related crimes numbered 400 in the largest such mass arrest in the US up to that date.

Digging Deeper

Not only were there 400 arrests, but within an astounding 4 days there were 300 people convicted, most of whom served 5 months in jail prior to being deported. A number of company executives were also prosecuted for a variety of related offenses, such as violating immigration laws, child labor laws, and identity theft. Their sentences ranged from 2 months to 41 months in jail. (Nice to see the facilitators and enablers get justice for a change!)

Company CEO, Sholom Rubashkin, and his sons avoided convictions on immigration related issues, but Rubashkin was convicted of bank fraud and related financial irregularities, resulting in a 27 year term in prison that more or less made prosecution on the immigration charges moot.

The massive raid was conducted with hundreds of Federal agents involved, using helicopters and buses to transport the large law enforcement contingent to arrive at the site simultaneously so illegals would not escape. Among those arrested were 4 Ukrainians, 2 Israelis, 93 Mexicans and a whopping 290 people from Guatemala. About 18 of those arrested were under 18 years old. The massive haul came as a surprise to authorities who expected only about 100 illegal aliens to be on the scene when the raid was first planned all the way back in 2000, a raid cancelled for political reasons. In 2000, most of the illegals were expected to be from Eastern Europe.

Pre-raid complaint documents alleged the widespread use of illegal alien labor, identity theft, fraud, manufacture of illegal drugs (methamphetamine) and illegal carrying of weapons. (No drug lab was ever found.)

Those illegal aliens taken to court were shackled together in chains and tried and sentenced in groups of 5 or 10, a “fast track” approach. Of those illegal aliens rounded up, 41 were granted “U-Visas” as waivers to stay in the United States on the grounds of having suffered violent abuse.

Postville, a town of less than 2300 people was greatly affected by the arrests, and Agriprocessors went out of business. Although the raid received national news coverage, there was considerable criticism from Labor Unions and other groups that the low level workers and illegals were targeted more than the enabling executives and supervisors. Other criticism came from the Wage and Hour overtime pay investigation that was cut short by the raid, meaning those convicted and deported never got the overtime pay they deserved for their work. The rapid mass form of “justice” was also given scrutiny as potentially unfair. Original news reports were that executives and bosses were not arrested or charged, enraging a segment of the public. This error was later rectified.

Protest rally on July 27, 2008

Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think about illegal immigrants in the United States? This seems to be an emotional hot topic today, perhaps more than ever. Please feel free to give us your opinions on the subject, whatever those opinions are, in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Camayd-Freixas, Erik.  US Immigration Reform and Its Global Impact: Lessons from the Postville Raid.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.