Woody Guthrie’s age-old song ‘This Land Was Made for You and Me’ plays, as the movie begins, over a backdrop of scenery from small town America. The lyrics mirror Psalm 24, which state “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” For the people of Postville, and almost 400 workers from the AgriProcessor kosher meat packing plant, this idyllic setting was shattered on May 12, 2008. On that day, this land did not, seemingly, belong to them.
What was described as a ‘sea of black’ swarmed the plant with numerous men, women and underage children swept away, one by one. They were shackled by their hands and feet, before they were sent to a makeshift courtroom at the National Cattle Congress. They were, in their words, ‘herded like cattle and treated like animals.’
The documentary details personal accounts of the ordeal some described as the scariest day of their lives. Some mothers, when asked if they had children, told the agents ‘no’ for fear of their safety. They could not have known this answer might mean they would never see their children again. One woman, Laura, said she was told that she had no rights, this was ‘not her country,’ even though she had lived and worked here most of her young life.
Men were arrested, jailed and swiftly deported with no ability to contact family. Many family members of those ‘missing,’ congregated at local St. Bridget’s church for solace and comfort. Unaccompanied children were left without knowing where their parents had gone, or if they were ever coming back. Were it not for St. Bridget’s opening its doors, these families would have faced the fear and unknown alone. Through the church, they found sanctuary.
Many who were arrested did not understand the papers they were asked to sign, nor were they given proper representation by an immigration attorney. Some of those arrested were as young as 14 years old, working 7 am to 7 pm, not attending school and breaking many child labor laws. Even though AgriProcessors was eventually charged with employing underage workers and fined, this did nothing to bring families together who were separated by deportation procedures that were anything but just, or humane.
The question we are left to ponder at the end of the movie is ‘what kind of response do we want to have?’ The Bible asks us in Colossians 3:12 to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness & patience.”
This movie compels us to search ourselves and ask: Is the current immigration system one clothed in compassion and kindness? Can we be a nation that lives up to the words of the bible, of the Woody Guthrie song, which states ‘this land was made for you and me?’
Beth Orchard is currently working with World Relief as Editor of the blog g92.org. Recently married, she lives near Wheaton, IL and is a recent graduate from the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago with a Master’s of Social Justice. She is passionate about working for international human rights with immigrants and refugees.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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