Mount Pleasant, Iowa — Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 32 immigrant workers after raiding the concrete manufacturing plant MPC Enterprises (Midwest Precast Concrete) on the morning of May 9 as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing war against immigrants and workers.
At MPC, 32 men were arrested and detained by ICE agents, with the assistance of the Mt. Pleasant Police Department and the Henry County Sheriff’s department. The workers, who were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, were charged with “administrative immigration violations” and loaded into vans. The specific charges against them have not been released, and the workers were unable to contact their families.
ICE Regional Public Affairs Officer Shawn Neudauer refused to answer questions about the raid after being contacted by this reporter. Instead, Neudauer issued a statement to Workers World on May 10. According to the statement, “There is no threat to the public. As this involves an ongoing criminal investigation no further comment is available.”
The workers did not pose any threat to the public, but ICE continues being a threat with its campaign of intimidation and force. As reported by WHO TV, Mt. Pleasant resident Tammy Shull said, “Students were leaving class to see if their parents were there. There’s a lot of fear in the community.” (May 9)
One of those students was 15-year-old Oscar Lopez of Mount Pleasant High School, who heard about the raid from a phone call during his third-period class. Fearing that his father was among those arrested, Lopez and his mother went to the MPC plant, where they saw ICE agents guarding the entrance and the workers forcibly escorted into the vans. It was later reported that Lopez’s father was among those arrested. (Des Moines Register, May 10)
Since news of the raid spread through the town of 8,500 people, Mt. Pleasant’s First Presbyterian Church (FPC), a safe place for immigrants and refugees, has been working with groups like the Iowa City-based Center for Worker Justice (CWJ) of Eastern Iowa to develop an emergency response to the raid and pursue a course of action.
CWJ Executive Director Rafael Morataya took to social media, writing: “It is devastating to see the faces of children during the meeting yesterday in Mount Pleasant, the community is dismayed by the raid in a town that has welcomed immigrants with open arms as they have contributed to the local economy and have made their new home. Thanks to all who are supporting the families and rejecting the hate from ICE.”
The FPC hosted a community forum, followed by an “Immigrant Children Vigil” outside the Henry County Courthouse in Mt. Pleasant on May 10. During the forum, Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Ron Archer told forum attendees that assisting ICE was “part of my job.” (Des Moines Register, May 11) This line of reasoning follows the “Nuremberg Defense” that Nazi war criminals used to justify their compliance with the fascist regime by saying, “We were only following orders.”
In Des Moines, a solidarity vigil was conducted outside the Neal Smith Federal Building. The Vigilia Solidaria was organized by the American Friends Service Committee (Iowa), the Iowa DREAM Coalition, Iowa Justice For Our Neighbors and Proyecto Latino Iowa CCI, which is part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s sister organization, Iowa CCI Action Fund.
In a May 11 email, Iowa CCI said: “We’re not going to back down – we won’t stand for more families being torn apart. We are committed to making sure that our local law enforcement don’t become pawns of ICE.”
Iowa legislators and law enforcement are carrying out the bidding of President Donald Trump and ICE. A recent example was the passing of Senate Bill 481 in April, a measure to punish sanctuary cities that was eagerly signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds and will take effect on July 1. This bill represents the willingness of state officials to work with the Trump administration in tearing apart families and communities.
The raid took place three days before the 10th anniversary of another Iowa tragedy: the ICE raid on the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008. Nearly 400 immigrant workers were arrested and subjected to barbaric treatment by the authorities. One of the workers was María Gómez, who was 31 when she told the Los Angeles Times, “We walk on the streets, and the Americans see us as criminals.” (May 12, 2009)
This moment in recent history shows how the U.S. government was waging a war on immigrants and workers long before Trump took office.
The Iowa Federation of Labor released a public statement which concluded: “Every single worker suffers when millions struggle but have no way to speak up on the job, and we worry that making workplaces spaces of fear will only increase the exploitation and suffering of our fellow workers. Instead of deporting people, we should ensure that all workers have rights on the job – and can exercise them without being retaliated against.” (iowalabornews.com, May 10)
Many of the emergency response groups condemning ICE are raising funds for the arrested workers and their families.