Monday, February 22, 2010

40 days and 40 nights

The devastation of the May 12, 2008 immigration raid in the small rural town of Postville in Northeast Iowa was followed by unprecedented large scale criminal prosecution of many of those detained. Aptly termed a lottery of justice by federal interpreter Erik Camayd Frexias, the prosecution "processed" people through an assembly line of "justice" that reflected the rush, pressure, and dehumanization that the workers lived through within Agriprocessors (their former employer). A little known part of the ensuing mess, was the fate of about 40 individuals in that prosecution. After serving about 5 months sentences--to which they agreed under pressure that this would be their "quickest way home"--about 40 individuals were held back as material witnesses in the criminal prosecution against their former employer. For close to a year and a half, these individuals have lived in uncertainty--passed on from one federal and state case to another, told at various times to pack up and get ready to go, just to be told again that they had to stay longer. Repeatedly they have had to call their families and tell them to prepare for their arrival, only to have to call them again and tell their children that it will be a while yet. I myself have been to their house a half a dozen times to inform them of their impending departure, only to return two days later to let them know that the latest word from one agency or another is that they are to stay...

The latest permutation of this--which does seem to come with some finality, but so have other statements--is that they have 40 days to prepare to be sent back to their countries of origin. One of the people from our area faith coalition commented on the irony of the journey these folks will go through as we journey for 40 days and 40 nights of lent. Their wilderness, of uncertainty, of joy at the prospect of seeing family again, of fear of the future, of economic uncertainty, is a journey that clearly points to the integration of both our spiritual and our physical lives. There is wisdom in the church's liturgy and memory, to recognize that what our bodies do--when we move, when we journey, when we hunger--has a direct bearing on our spiritual journey.

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