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A Year Without a Mexican: The Debilitating Loss of Economic Lifeblood

Undocumented workers were the economic lifeblood of small towns like Postville, Iowa -- until the immigration cops showed up.

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Critics of ICE's hardball tactics, while grateful that the raid exposed serious labor abuses at Agriprocessors, accuse the immigration authorities of badly mismanaging the aftermath. To be sure, ICE has neutralized Swift and Agri and Howard Industries as illegal-immigrant magnets, but so, too, has it neutered the economies that came to depend on them. And even fans of this tough-guy strategy tend to agree that without systemic reform, there will be no end to our illegal-immigration issues.

In the meantime, dozens of ex-workers still walk around Postville in ankle bracelets, unable to earn a living, making the town something of an open-air prison. Some of them are witnesses in state and federal cases against Agri. Why, residents ask themselves over and over, should local institutions bear all the financial and social costs? "It's outrageous," said Sol Varisco, who works with refugees and immigrants for Catholic Charities at the Des Moines diocese. "Is this how we enforce the law? Leave the churches and nonprofits to pick up the pieces?"

This story was produced under the George Washington Williams Fellowship, sponsored by the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, a project of Tides Center.

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