Postville raid costs taxpayers $5 million

The Des Moines Register - October 14th, 2008

The nation's taxpayers have spent $5.2 million on the raid of Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville by immigration officials.

The May 12 raid on the meatpacking plant, one of the largest immigration raids ever on a single site in the United States, included several hundred federal agents and two law enforcement helicopters that monitored the raid from overhead.

Officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, said in response to a freedom of information request by The Des Moines Register that their expenditures totaled $5,211,092 as of Aug. 21.

That means it has cost taxpayers an average of $13,396 for each of the 389 illegal immigrants taken into custody.

So far, about 50 of the people apprehended at Postville have been deported. About 50 other people are not in custody while undergoing proceedings to be removed from the United States.

The rest of the people are in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, serving sentences for criminal convictions, ICE spokesman Tim Counts said. Some of the most common convictions involve federal identity theft and misuse of a Social Security number.

Undisclosed costs

The information provided to the newspaper is not a complete accounting of expenses related to the raid.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor declined to provide information about his agency's costs. He cited the ongoing investigation at Postville, where Agriprocessors operates what had been the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant.

Also, the U.S. attorney's office in Cedar Rapids did not respond to requests for its expenses.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat who represents eastern Iowa, said he has had difficulty trying to learn details about federal spending on the raid.

"I have been working for months to get answers about the costs of the Postville raid because taxpayers in Iowa and across the country deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent to enforce our immigration laws," Braley said.

Raid disagreements

Scott Frotman, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that has attempted to organize Agriprocessors' workers, was critical of the Postville raid. He said it covers up the fact that the Bush administration has done nothing to fix what he called a broken immigration system.

"The Agriprocessors' raid cost taxpayers millions of dollars, it raised serious due process issues, and it may have compromised federal investigations into labor abuses by the company's management," Frotman said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, disagreed. He said immigration laws must be enforced, regardless of the expense to taxpayers.

"If we start saying, 'Well, it costs too much money to enforce the law,' then we will see more and more of these radical, pro-illegal immigration activists drive more wedges between us and make it harder to enforce the law," King said.

Counts, the ICE spokesman, echoed that point.

"We are charged with enforcing the nation's immigration laws," he said. "When through an investigation it became clear that there were widespread illegal activities in the Agriprocessors' plant, we were compelled to take action."

Some expenses known

Counts said last week he was unable break down spending by his agency on the Postville raid.

But it is known that the government leased the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo, which served as a detention facility and makeshift federal courthouse. Meals for the detainees were catered by Hy-Vee Inc. In addition, motels in the Postville and Waterloo areas were heavily booked with agents.

The raid also led the Iowa attorney general's office in September to charge Agriprocessors owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin; his son, Sholom Rubashkin; and three other company employees with 9,311 child labor law violations. Agriprocessors said the youths lied about their ages to get hired.

Other effects

Postville City Clerk Darcy Radloff said city officials have not itemized their costs in the aftermath, but there has been a financial impact.

One effect has been that Agriprocessors has hired new workers with backgrounds that have brought crime, she said. That's created an additional workload for the town's four full-time police officers, she said.

State Sen. Mark Zieman, a Postville Republican and a farmer, said the immigration enforcement operation had human and business costs, in addition to government-related expenses.

"I understand the raid, but I also don't like the way it was handled," Zieman said. "Even the natives didn't know what was going on."