By Yun Lin, The Daily Iowan
They hail from as far away as Estonia, the Gaza Strip, the Côte d ’Ivoire and as near as Iowa City, but Monday, they were all gathered in one room to discuss human rights.
Local and international activists gathered for a forum on human rights at the University Capitol Center, held by the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities.
The forum began with a film screening of Luis Argueta ’s abUSed: The Postville Raid. Afterword, Iowa City attorney Rockne Cole and Sister Mary McCauley, both of whom were engaged with the Postville raid and its aftermath, shared their opinions and thoughts in the following panel discussion.
The Postville raid was an immigration operation on May 12, 2008, at the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse and meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division arrested and eventually deported more than 300 undocumented immigrants as a result of the raid.
“What happened in Postville is a fundamental breakdown of our government process by the state on the federal level as well as the immigration system,” Cole said. “I think it is a breakdown of the legal community.”
It was also an opportunity for the seven international visitors to listen to the local responses about human-rights challenges in United States.
Among the visitors was Ekachai Pinkaew, a human-rights officer from Thailand, Fransisca Susanti, the executive editor of Jakarta, Indonesia, newspaper Sinar Harapan, and Mohammed al-Azaizeh, Gaza field coordinator for Gisha — Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.
Other representatives came from Côte d’Ivoire, Estonia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka.
Pinkaew said he wanted to bring what he learned here to his hometown, and he hoped a tragedy such as Postville would not happen in the future in the United States or in Thailand.
Nadia Doubiany, the program coordinator of the Council for International Visitors, said she hopes the international delegation will apply what they learned here in their own field of work.
“I hope that international visitors are enriched, enlightened, and really learn from the speakers, the real cases, and are engaged to exchange ideas and perspectives with community members,” she said.
Cole said he hoped the Iowa community would be able to solve human-rights issues internally.
“The reason we really love living in this state is the culture of the legal community,” he said. “In this state, you know your neighbors, or you can call the governor about your complaints, and certainly you can contact the mayor and get replies.”
McCauley, who provided services through St. Bridget ’s Catholic Church in Postville, said, “If we want to keep Iowa as a variable state, we should be open to immigrants because we need strong rural people who are going to do work in our lands for the rural Iowa economy.”