As agents led nearly 100 undocumented immigrants, many still covered in pork blood, into three buses, Mendoza saw her brother, who also worked at the plant, cuffed at both his hands and feet, being dragged onto a different bus. He had tried to run earlier. In the distance, a large crowd gathered with signs and chanted Si se puede! The sight brought her to tears.
The raid on Dec. 12, 2006 was one of six at Swift plants around the country that day. Almost 1,300 undocumented immigrants were detained nationwide. Ten years later, the scar left by the raid remains in this town of 28,000, an hour northeast of Des Moines.
The Avalos Family
Rumors are spreading around a run-down dance hall in Marshalltown where local union members are meeting on a Sunday morning in January. It’s single digits outside and the heat is barely on. Everyone keeps their coats on as they debate who will represent them to negotiate with the meatpacking plant about bathroom breaks, safer speed on their lines, and health care.
Some people say they think they saw ICE agents in town earlier in the week, and warn others not to answer their doors for anyone.
“He wasn’t an agent,” chides one man to another in Spanish. “He was wearing a DirecTV uniform.”
“Maybe it was a disguise,” says the other man.
Some women huddled in a group say people fearing an ICE raid aren’t showing up to ESL classes in Hampton, a small town over an hour north that’s 22 percent Latino. Word of new raids in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas leaves an unsettled feeling in these workers from the same meatpacking plant that was raided a decade earlier.
After two hours of debating plant conditions, one man stands up. “I’ve been working here for 18 years,” he says. “Conditions got worse after ICE came.” Rumbles of agreement flow through the room.
Fernando Guevara understands why everyone is nervous. He’s nervous too. “Especially now that there’s word about raids, people are again really tense and scared and worried,” he tells me just outside the union meeting.
Guevara had just gotten into work the morning of the raid when he saw ICE agents flooding the hallways. He says he overheard one agent say to another, with a laugh, “Let the hunting begin.” The agent then spotted Guevara.
“Here’s one of them,” the agent said, he remembers.
“I don’t have time,” Guevara responded. “I have something to do.”
“Hey, I told you to come here.”
“I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
“Why are you making me wait?” he says the agent said. "Don’t you know I’m immigration? I can arrest you. Do you have a green card?”
“No, I’m a citizen.”
“Are you sure about that? We’re going to check.”
Guevara had been a citizen since 1987. He waited in the cafeteria for over an hour with his coworkers. When agents finally got to him, Guevara showed them his driver’s license. Agents, he says, called him a liar. He says the confrontation was interrupted by the screams of a woman who was being dragged away by her hair.