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Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Life Changing Again for Five Guatemalan Men of ICE Raid Groups Seeking Community Support for Families

The Decorah Newspapers: Life is about to change dramatically again for five Guatemalan men detained in the May 2008 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in Postville.

In a few weeks, they'll enter the United States legally, work at valid jobs and support family members who are coming with them. Four will live in Iowa - two in Winneshiek County.

The five men now possess United States immigration U-Visas, intended to give victims of certain crimes, like labor violations, temporary legal status and work eligibility for up to four years. Three years into the U-Visa term, holders can apply for alien registration receipt cards (green cards) allowing them to stay in the U.S. permanently. They could eventually apply for citizenship.

The beginning

The past two and a half years have been eventful for the men.

On May 12, 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies performed the largest raid in U.S. history at that time at Agriprocessors Inc. Nearly 400 immigrants with false papers were charged with identity theft, document fraud, use of stolen Social Security numbers and related offenses; about 300 were convicted, served sentences and deported.

Some - including the five returning on U-Visas - were brought back to the United States to testify against Sholom Rubashkin, former executive officer and vice president of Agriprocessors, in a child labor violations trial last year, but were never called to speak. Rubashkin was acquitted in that trial, but was convicted of 86 counts of financial fraud and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Following the labor trial, they were sent back to Guatemala.

But while they were in the United States last year, the process to get U-Visas began, led by Des Moines Attorney Sonia Parras, working pro bono.

U-Visas, which were first issued in 2007, require holders to be helpful in the prosecution of criminals involved in the crimes against them.

Holders can petition for their families to join them in the United States. For U-Visa holders younger than 21, their spouses, children, parents and unmarried siblings younger than 19 are allowed immigrate as well.

After the U-Visas were approved planning began. Originally, the five holders and their male family members were going to come first and the women would join them once housing and employment were established, said Ellen Cutting, member of Decorah's Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center Immigration Committee. The committee, along with the Decorah Area Faith Coalition, has been gathering money, support and other necessities for the men. However, because of a transition in Guatemala's government in January, all will come together in mid- to late December.

The families will fly to O'Hare Airport in Chicago, then ride a bus to Postville. They're expect to arrive in two groups - one in mid-December (probably Dec. 15) and one at the end of the month (possibly Dec. 27). Welcome events are planned at St. Bridget's Church in Postville.

The families

Many of the men will join family members already living in the area.

Marcos, who attended Postville public schools until ninth grade, will bring his wife, mother and father. They'll live in Postville, Cutting said. Marcos has been issued a work permit but doesn't have a job yet. He has said he would like to do farm work.

"They'll take whatever they can get," Cutting added.

Osbeli will be joined by his wife, 2-year-old daughter, father, mother and 17-year-old brother. The family of six will temporarily live with Osbeli's uncle in Ossian, Cutting said.

"The uncle has a very small house, and with six of them..." she said. "These families are so open and so generous."

Osbeli is expected to look for work in the Ossian/Postville area.

Selvin, who is currently living in the area with his aunt and has his U-Visa, will sponsor his mother, father and 15-year-old brother. Selvin has his work permit and can legally be employed, Cutting said. His brother will probably attend public school.

Jimmy will live in Waterloo. He will return to the country with his wife, baby daughter, father, mother, two brothers and sister.

At this time, the family members coming with the U-Visa holders do not have work permits, Cutting said. Family members have expressed interest in taking English as a second language classes and studying to get their driver's licenses.

"It sounds like they don't want to sit around and wait (for work permits)," Cutting said. All family members sponsored have Social Security numbers, she said.

Lending a helping hand

After the raid in 2008, the Decorah community and others reached out to help the workers and families impacted by the raid. They do not qualify for federal help, like food stamps.

"Historically, this has been a welcoming community, beginning with refuges from Southeast Asia in the 1970s," said Perry-O Sliwa, member of the Immigration Committee.

At the time of the raid, community groups and churches joined together to provide money and other support, she said.

About a month ago, the Immigration Committee was notified that the five Guatemalan men would be returning to the country, and asked to help by Luis Argueta, director of the documentary "AbUSed: The Postville Raid." Argueta is creating another documentary for this chapter of the story, called "Los U-Visas." The 10-12 members of the committee, along with faith communities in Decorah and Postville, are helping prepare for the men.

A resettlement fund has been established.

"We're trying to raise money that will be available to them," Sliwa said.

"The puzzle is all falling together but we need the money," Cutting said.

The goal is to raise $15,000, Cutting said. The committee would like to support all 23 people with clothes, food, rent and utilities for three months, she said.

"Then, hopefully, they'll be on their own," she said. The families will be welcome to give any of the donated money back to the resettlement fund, or borrow more in the form of a loan, she said.

Some of the funds will reimburse Parras for her pro bono work.

In addition to financial assistance, the committee is gathering coats, hats, mittens and boots for the families. They also want to collect coveralls for the men who get farm jobs.

Cutting said they don't anticipate all the Guatemalans to arrive with winter-appropriate clothes. The Depot Outlet plans to help them with some clothing.

The committee is also collecting blankets and towels for the families. Cutting said donations of blankets and towels can be left at the Peace and Justice Center, 119 Winnebago St., Decorah, open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Immigration Committee is assembling personal support for the families. It's anticipated they will need sporadic transportation, help finding employment and houses to rent, Christmas gifts, English as a second language teachers, assistance studying for the driver's exams and translators for doctors appointments and other meetings.

The committee is helping Jimmy's family financially, but, since he plans to live out of this area, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Blackhawk County Church in Cedar Falls is assisting him in finding employment, housing and other needs.

Monetary donations may be made to: The U-Visa Resettlement Fund, Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center, 119 Winnebago St., Decorah IA 52101. Funds will be deposited into a special account at Decorah Bank and Trust.

To donate clothing, volunteer or ask questions, contact Cutting, at 563-382-3894, or the Peace and Justice Center at 563-382-5337.

Retired ELCA Pastor Rev. Steve Jacobsen is serving as the fundraising coordinator and will present to individuals or groups. Contact Jacobsen at stevejake47@gmail.com.

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