Postville raid interpreter speaks to law students

BY NINA EARNEST | MARCH 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Rosanna Mejia is Guatemalan, but her daughter is an American citizen.

Mejia was one of the nearly 400 workers arrested at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2008.

She and her then-2-year-old lived under house arrest for three months before they were deported to Guatemala.

Now, the mother fights off her little girl’s hunger pains with watered-down coffee.

Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor at Florida International University who served as an interpreter during the raid, told the story to a crowd in the Levitt Auditorium of the University of Iowa’s Boyd Law Building. He was the keynote speaker for the College of Law’s Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, as part of its “War On: The Fallout of Declaring War on Social Issues.”

“Everyone of those stories is a heart-rending story,” Camayd-Freixas told The Daily Iowan Thursday night.

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He drew comparisons between slave labor in the United States and the progression of treatment of migrant workers in the present day.

“As it happens throughout the country, those who rise one notch above servitude are stricken down by limiting social mobility,” he told the group of law students and community members.

A sanctuary city is a way to provide a safe harbor for migrant workers, he said.

“During slavery, you had a North-South divide,” Camayd-Freixas told the DI. “You crossed a line, and you were free, and you had people helping you.”

The speaker also traced the cases of undocumented laborers as a historically civil matter handled by the Labor Department to a militarized situation governed by policy sparked by the war on terror.

“The administration strove to redefine all migration as a threat to national security,” Camayd-Freixas said.

During the 2008 Postville raid, he said, he saw human rights being violated, especially in terms of mandatory immigrant detention.

“It took me by surprise when [almost 400] people were under those conditions,” he said.

Sarah Pierce, the senior symposium editor, said its goal is to examine the legal path in confronting these issues.

“Policy- and lawmakers use policy wars to rally people against these social issues,” she said. “What we’re looking at is how many people are actually victimized by these wars.”

Matt Hulstein, a second-year law student and student writer for the journal, said Camayd-Freixa’s presentation transformed abstract theory from law school into a human aspect.

“When someone declares war on a population, someone’s going to be a casualty,” Hulstein said. “We’re interested in who that casualty is.”

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