Wednesday, June 25, 2008

After Postville raid, mystery advertiser in Guatemala sought meatpackers

Agriprocessors denies any role in ads touting 'excellent opportunity' in Iowa

By Lorena López and Douglas Burns

Just days after nearly 300 Guatemalans working at a Postville, Iowa meatpacking plant were nabbed in the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, an unknown entity sought to recruit more laborers from the Central American nation for jobs in the same small Iowa town -- going so far as to run advertisements in two major Guatemalan newspapers that a government official there says have all the trappings of a "fraud."

The mysterious newspaper ads, published in late May and also affixed to telephone poles and store walls in Guatemala City, sought people for meat-processing jobs in Postville, Iowa -- site of the May 12 raid at the kosher slaughterhouse run by Agriprocessors, the only meatpacking facility in the town.

Of the 389 people caught in the U.S. Immigration Enforcement and Customs (ICE) raid, 295 were Guatemalans working at the kosher facility, said Tim Counts, an ICE spokesperson.

The ads, published in the Guatemala City newspapers Prensa Libre and El Periodico, promised an "excellent opportunity of a job in the United States" for "men who have permission to work in the United States."

The printed pitch goes on to say that the company was "located in a technologically developed town with a friendly atmosphere, pretty green areas, public schools and family recreation areas" -- and that the jobs paid $8.50 an hour and offered medical and dental benefits.

The ads don't specifically mention Agriprocessors, and the company says it has nothing to do with them.

"Here's the bottom line: Agri didn't place the ads," said Jim Fallon, a spokesperson for Agriprocessors. "We don't know who did it."

Guatemalan government investigates

Guatemalan government officials say they are seeking the source of the ads.

"This is a case that is under investigation," said Erick Mauricio Maldonado, general director for immigration issues in the Guatemalan Chancellor's Office. The matter is now in the hands of the Public Minister's Office in Guatemala City, Maldonado said in a phone interview with Iowa Independent.

Maldonado added, "The government doesn't support any of this program because we don't know where it is coming from or who is placing it."

The ads included a cellular phone number for those interested. Iowa Independent called the number and received an answer saying the phone number was no longer in service.

So did Guatemalan officials who said they received the same result.

Asked who paid for the ads, Gerardo Jimenez, editor of Prensa Libre, said, "We don't know." When pressed whether the accounting department at the paper might know anything about payments, the editor said the paper had no information.

Maldonado said Prensa Libre provided the same answer to the government. He said an investigation is under way because of the potential "fraud" involved.

In the United States, Counts said he could not disclose any information about an investigation. "Even if agents do know something about it, it is not something we would confirm," Counts said.

Agriprocessors has been shaken by the raid. CEO Sholom Rubashkin, son of the company's founder, stepped down in late May.

Last week, Iowa Independent reported that an Agriprocessor supervisor who sold used cars and favorable treatment to company employees had fled to Israel, according to people who knew him. A federal agent said in sworn affidavit that there was "probable cause to believe" that the supervisor who sold used cars, "aided in the harboring of illegal aliens."

The Postville plant, owned and operated by the Rubashkin family, is one of the leading manufacturers of kosher food in the country. Members of the Rubashkin family have donated more than $120,000 to the Iowa Republican Party and Republican office holders in recent years and a smaller amount to Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.

The company is under federal investigation, according to news reports.

(Lorena López is editor of the western Iowa Spanish-language newspaper La Prensa. Douglas Burns is a fellow for Iowa Independent.)

This story is cross-posted at Iowa

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