Postville raid

A stressful two-hour drive delivered me to Postville yesterday, where ICE was carrying out a raid on a meatpacking plant (specifically, the world's largest kosher meatpacking plant, and the largest immigration raid in the US). The Gazette has a series of articles up, but start here for the basics.. They went in with warrants or complaints for 697 people, and arrested 390. Just heard on the news that the equivalent of 1/6 of Postville's population was taken; local business owners fear that this will cripple the town's economy. All of my photos came from outside the plant; the church where everyone had gathered was off-limits to cameras, leaving me somewhat limited in what I could cover. I spent some time at the plant before filing from the Sweet Spot ice cream shop, which became the Gazette's Postville bureau as reporters Adam and Tina used my computer to file their stories while I went back and forth from the plant and the church.

This is pretty much what we saw for most of the day.. state troopers and ICE officers standing outside the plant. A lot of waiting.

A group of boys from the Yeshiva came to check out the scene on their extended lunch break. Because of the plant, there's a large Jewish population in Postville.. for such a small town, it has incredible diversity.. but walking downtown later, you wouldn't know it. It was a ghost town.

Workers began trickling out -- presumably those who were documented, or those with young children with no one to care for them.

This Homeland Security bus was the third bus of the day to leave the plant, but the first I saw since it took me awhile to get there from Cedar Rapids. They loaded the buses away from where we could see them (although some TV stations got aerials from their helicopters).

Violeta Aleman is a quality assurance auditor at the plant and US citizen since 2003. She brought her drivers' license with her to work Monday, and her husband brought her passport to the plant so she could be released. She was waiting outside the plant to see if any of the women she worked with would be released. I caught up with her a couple more times later in the day, and a few of the women had been let go.

Based on the interactions I observed and conversations I overheard, the girl in the middle is probably underage. She left with her father awhile later after they talked with ICE officers. The caption we used in the paper just referred to her and the other boy as plant workers, since I wasn't able to confirm that she was underage and undocumented.

After filing the photos above, I went back to the plant and found this woman, Osi M., crying and talking to friends. She wouldn't give her last name, but through a translator, I was told that her husband, Moshe M., was a legal resident from Israel, but was being held until his passport could be verified. Without a last name, we wouldn't run the photo (credibility issues), and we don't have a way of knowing one way or another what the story is. I think she understood why I wanted to use her photo -- to put a face on the loved ones left worrying about their spouses, parents, children -- but was adamant in not giving her last name. I'm still learning how to work in situations like these -- when it's okay to not have names, when we need them, how to respect their privacy while trying to do my job and tell the story of the day.

Another bus was leaving during the live 6:00 broadcasts..

I went back one more time after filing what I expected were my final images. The woman at the left was being consoled by a plant coworker or supervisor, and with a few steps in another direction, I saw the second woman crying as well. I sent the photo in from my car (the ice cream shop bureau was closed), and when I got back to the office, saw they'd placed it as the lede photo for Tuesday's paper.

There was white mesh over the windows of the buses, so those inside could see us, but we couldn't see them. My last stop at the plant was close to sunset, and the people inside were silhouetted by the sun shining through the mesh.. the only look we have at those being detained.


  1. You captured some really nice moments for what access you had. Well done, I tip my hat to you.

  2. I think the photos and people you found are excellent for the access you had. I worked with Courtney covering immigration issues last semester and one of the most difficult issues to deal with were language and understanding. Most undocumented people are extremely suspicious of press and others outside their own community. Are you going continue to follow this story?