|The Safest Place in Town|
|Written by Sherry|
|Monday, 14 July 2008 08:32|
Meanwhile, back home in mid America . . .
On May 12, in Postville, Iowa
"Federal immigration agents raided the Agriprocessors factory, arresting nearly 400 workers, most of them men, for being in the United States illegally. Within minutes of the raid, with surveillance helicopters buzzing above the leafy streets, the wives and children of Mexican and Guatemalan families began trickling into St. Bridget’s Church, the safest place they knew.
It was about that time, with several dozen cowering people inside the church, when Sister Mary McCauley, the pastor administrator at St. Bridget’s, found out that Father Ouderkirk was attending a ceremony for diocesan priests nearly two hours away in Dubuque. Unable to reach him directly, she left a simple, urgent message: “We need to see a collar here.”
By the time Father Ouderkirk extricated himself and reached Postville in the evening, nearly 400 families, some of them not even Catholic, filled the rotunda and social hall of St. Bridget’s. They occupied every pew, every aisle, every folding chair, every inch of floor. Children clutched mothers. One girl shook uncontrollably.
A few volunteers from the old Postville, descendants of the Irish and Norwegian immigrants who settled here more than a century ago, set out food. Others took turns standing watch at the church door, as if the sight of an Anglo might somehow dissuade the feared Migra, as the immigrants call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from invading their sanctuary.
Already, members of the church staff and a Spanish teacher from a nearby college were tallying the names of the detained workers. Father Ouderkirk conducted his own version of a census in this predominantly Hispanic parish. Gone were all but two members of the choir he had assembled over the years. Gone were all but one of the eight altar servers. Gone were the husbands from the weddings he had performed, and gone were the fathers of the children he had baptized.
As for the mothers, many of them also worked at Agriprocessors and had been arrested. In a putative show of compassion, federal authorities released them after putting an electronic homing device on each woman’s ankle to monitor her whereabouts. These mothers were, in the new lexicon of Postville, “las personas con brazalete,” the people with a bracelet."
The only redemptive thing that can be said, perhaps, is that in the crisis at Postville — with nearly 400 immigrants imprisoned and facing deportation, with 40 mothers under house arrest awaiting their own court dates, with families that had two working parents now forced to survive on handouts from a food pantry — the beacon of the Roman Catholic Church to immigrants has rarely shone more brilliantly.
Read it all.