In 2008 in Postville, Iowa, an immigration raid removed 389 undocumented workers from the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. In the immediate aftermath, many other undocumented workers fled the town, which had a total population of only 2,000. The impact was devastating. “It interrupted our economy for at least a year, and hurt a lot of our families,” says Leigh Rekow, who has served as Postville’s mayor since 2009.
The town has since rebuilt. The meatpacking plant, which provides the bulk of the jobs there, is now owned and operated by Agri Star, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States. It’s powered largely by immigrants from Mexico and Somalia. “You know, a meatpacking place is not a nice place to work,” Rekow says. The implication is clear: U.S.-born Americans prefer less grueling work.
They’re good workers, they take care of their property, buy houses, pay taxes, and they’re good neighbors.
Rekow looks back on the 2008 immigration raid — one of the largest in American history — and recognizes that even though the workers were undocumented, they were good, hardworking people who helped support the community. Today, Postville’s economy still depends on these immigrants — and many new ones — who are helping to repopulate the town, he says: “They’re good workers, they take care of their property, buy houses, pay taxes, and they’re good neighbors.” According to New American Economy research, immigrant spending power in Postville’s congressional district, in northeast Iowa, is $570 million annually. In addition, the 25,120 immigrant residents in the district paid $186 million in taxes in 2014.
When it comes to reform, Rekow wants to see undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records deported. But the law-abiding majority, he says, should have a path to citizenship. “They work hard and they integrate well,” he says. “They’re part of our community.”