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  • Juan M. Pedroza

Postville Raid, 10 years later

10 years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) descended on Postville, IA and carried out a massive raid. While working at the Urban Institute, I met with families to document the aftermath. My colleague, Molly Scott (Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute), and I just wrote about the anniversary of the infamous raid and the apparent return of worksite enforcement.

The post covers key lessons learned from Postville and a recent raid in small town Tennessee. Below, I present additional reflections on the Postville raid.

The raid and subsequent deportations were carried out quickly and had long-lasting effects: Families recounted helicopters arriving above their worksite, followed by mass arrests. The impact of the raid spread like wildfire. The raid touched every single home in Postville, a small town where everyone knew everyone else. I met with families who were released from detention (and required to wear ankle monitoring devices) and parents whose spouses were en route to deportation either to Mexico or Guatemala. During one of the interviews, I heard something I'd recorded in the aftermath of an earlier worksite raid in Van Nuys, CA: a mother wearing an ankle bracelet recounted how her infant would crawl over to the power outlet to help her mom recharge the monitor into the wall, where they would stay for hours each night. During a second visit, one year after the raid, the town and its separated families had yet to recover from their new lives under surveillance.

ICE saw Postville as an opportunity to implement new tactics: Postville was also the site of two developments in enforcement practices. First, the raid witnessed ICE attempting to innovate by charging immigrants with a new crime: identity theft. The Supreme Court later ruled that ICE could not charge immigrants with "knowingly" stealing someone's identity if they used a social security number that wasn't theirs. Second, ICE also ramped up expedited deportations by speedily processing as many immigrants as possible (en masse) in a hastily assembled detention hub at the nearby National Cattle Congress. If implemented broadly, mass processing -- already common near the US-Mexico border -- has the potential to dramatically remake immigration court procedures in the US interior under the current administration.

Deportations picked up long after the initial Postville raid ... in county jails: The Postville raid resulted in the rapid deportation of nearly 400 immigrants, but deportations the state didn't stop with the raid. Two years after the Postville operation, the Secure Communities program first arrived in Iowa county jails. DHS data capture how the volume of later deportations compare with the number of deportations following the Postville raid (dowload here). By the start of 2015, nearly 1,000 noncitizens were deported under Secure Communities. The majority (over 60 %) were deported for offenses not classified by ICE as a top priority (level 1 offenses), and more than one-third of deportations stemmed from level 3 priorities and other offenses (e.g., prior removal order, fugitives, administrative violations). The Postville raid took place a decade ago, but Secure Communities was recently revived and has the capacity to deport hundreds of immigrants in the coming years.

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