POSTVILLE, IOWA - The Statue of Liberty stood on both sides of the main street of Postville on Sunday, a symbol of how the volatile issue of immigration divides not only this Iowa town, but this country.
On one side, a woman who was part of a group of Twin Cities Jews that helped orchestrate the rally offered a picture of the statue as evidence that America has always welcomed the downtrodden.
But across the street, on the other side of a line of police officers, Rosanna Pulido, painted green and dressed as the icon of American freedom, said, "The statue says, 'Give me your poor and your tired.' It doesn't say, 'Give me your illegal aliens.'"
More than 1,000 people, including at least 150 from the Twin Cities, descended Sunday on Postville, a seemingly bucolic place beset by turmoil in the wake of the nation's largest immigration raid in May.
Most had come to support the hundreds of Guatemalans and Mexicans working illegally at Agriprocessors Inc. who were rounded up, jailed or deported as a result of the raid.
Twin Cities Jews say supporting the workers is important because they were mistreated while supplying U.S. Jews with kosher meat. There have been accusations that workers were abused and underpaid.
"For thousands of years, Jews lived by two rules: Welcome the strangers and don't exploit the worker,'" said Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action, based in St. Paul.
"We will settle for nothing less than a path for legalization, family unification, free migration of workers and immigrants, and equal protection for all workers," he told a cheering crowd at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, which has become a sanctuary for the families of the 400 or so arrested undocumented workers.
The trip began early Sunday as congregants from Twin Cities synagogues loaded buses bearing signs that read: "Jews for Justice for Immigrants and Workers."
Twin Cities Jews have donated about $20,000 to people affected by the immigration raids. One contributor is Elie Goldin, a student at Macalester College in St. Paul. "I want to show this is a Jewish voice in solidarity with immigrants and express a need for comprehensive immigration reform," she said.
Macalester labor historian and Prof. Peter Rachleff, who was on the trip, called the rally an important marker. "We are in a period of tremendous transition," he said. "The working class is coming more and more from [legal and illegal] immigrants, and they are a major force in unions."
About 1,200 people marched on Postville streets chanting, "Si, se puede" -- "Yes, we can."
Many Guatemalan women participating in the march wore ankle bracelets for monitoring by the courts. Their husbands have been arrested for illegal entry and often for using false Social Security numbers, and the women are awaiting court appearances for deportation and can't work.
Postville residents dragged lawn chairs out into yards and sipped sodas or beers as they watched.
The march wound through quiet, tidy neighborhoods to the processing plant, where a sign declared, "Agriprocessors: A great place to work." The group stopped there.
Rabbi Harold Kravitz of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka told those gathered that he had come because of "deeply troubling reports from this plant about treatment of workers." Such concerns should be added to those that inspire kosher rules that specify how animals are treated and butchered, he said.
Kravitz and Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights are leading a national movement to certify that kosher meat is processed in a manner that pays fair wages and treats workers with dignity.
On Sunday, Kravitz, Rosenthal and others met with two Agriprocessors leaders and asked for a fund to help displaced workers, demanded that the company pay workers vacation pay and back pay due before the raid, and asked them to accept the standards created by the group.
Rosenthal said the company said it was assisting workers with food and housing, but offered few specifics. "It was not satisfactory," he said. Agriprocessors agreed to continue discussions next week, he said.
Barely noticed at first, Getzel Rubashkin, grandson of the Agriprocessors founder, walked to the edge of the crowd, his austere black clothes a counterpoint to those of colorfully dressed Guatemalans.
"The people who come here talk about justice," he said. "No one disagrees with that. We are on the same side of the issue. We don't have a dog in this fight."
Stressing that he was speaking as an individual, not as a representative of the company, Rubashkin said he believes his father, the company's former CEO, did not know half the workers were illegal immigrants. "No one at this plant is against workers' rights or wants to mistreat anybody," he said.
As the march turned onto the town's main thoroughfare, it met the crowd that favors more immigration raids. Shouts of "Keep families together, no more raids!" were met with "Go home!" and "Take your kids with you!"
When two girls walked by with U.S. and Mexican flags, a man yelled, "Bring me that [Mexican] flag -- I'll burn that garbage."
Postville Mayor Robert Penrod expressed a different sentiment. "We need to put an end to ICE raids once and for all," he said. "Hispanic families that are here today have the town's sympathies, because we need to have them back together again."
Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702