Civil Rights and Wrongs

Immigration was the topic for Constitution Day.               
By Sara Friedman ’13

In 2004, the United States established September 17 as an annual celebration of the signing of the United States Constitution. All institutions that receive federal money are encouraged to commemorate the holiday. This year, Ithaca College focused on the topic of immigration across the country and in New York State as part of its celebration.

In conjunction with Latino Heritage Month, more than 10 schools and departments across campus came together on September 17 in an evening filled with discussion. Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, and American filmmaker Luis Argueta spoke in Textor Hall about immigration and answered questions in a subsequent panel. 

Dudley localized the issue of immigration to New York. In September alone, she says, 12 people were arrested because of immigration.

“It is very common to have families where one individual or more may not have the documents to be [in the United States], and they have U.S.-born citizen children,” says Dudley.

After Dudley spoke, Argueta screened his documentary, abUSed: The Postville Raid, which chronicles one of the most brutal, most expensive, and largest immigration raids in the history of the United States in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008, and its aftermath. Some 382 undocumented workers were arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in the country. 

In only four days, nearly 300 of these workers — the majority of them Guatemalan — were arrested and then fast-tracked through the U.S. legal system, tearing families apart and destroying the town of Postville itself. Some women were sent to their Postville homes under house arrest to take care of their children. In other cases, children were left alone with no idea of where their parents had gone. The convicted workers spent five months in federal prison before being deported.

Argueta has traveled to Postville 25 times since the raid in order to tell the stories of the immigrants. 

“I decided that this was a story that was too complex to get in just one trip,” he says. “I grew up in Guatemala, and I know Guatemalans. For Guatemalans to really open up and tell you the truth, it takes more than just a couple of hours of sitting there.”

Following the screening of Argueta’s film, a panel was held for students and community members to ask questions of Argueta, Dudley, and Shainanne Osterreich, associate professor of economics at IC.

Many professors across campus encouraged their students to attend the event. Senior Brad Collins came for his Latino Culture through Literature class.

“I’m fairly familiar with the topic, but it was great to hear some firsthand experiences,” he says.

Argueta is grateful to have had the opportunity to make a documentary about the victims of the raid in order to learn more about their lives.

“I feel very privileged to walk alongside the immigrants, because it has taught me about both my country of origin and my country today,” Argueta says. “I am a citizen of this country now. This is a documentary that I make as an American citizen. I’m trying to contribute a little bit to the dialogue that I think is one of the most crucial issues of our time: immigration.”