2011 Year-End Update

The Power of Film
abUSed: The Postville Raid
2011 Year End Update

Dear friends,

Over the last three years I have sent you several missives, taking you along on this meaningful journey that began back in May 2008 with the raid in Postville, Iowa. 2011 was spent giving 76 presentations of the documentary at community colleges, high schools, ivy league law schools, academic, immigration and labor conferences, churches, synagogues, community centers and 12 international film festivals. All of these showings and talks included a lot of coordination and I would not have been able to accomplish it without the help of Brenda Castillo, Jon-Carlos Evans, Bea Gallardo, Nicholas José Rubio and the love and support of Jennifer D. Argueta. Many thanks to all of them for their dedication, hard work, and sense of humor.

There are many reasons why I continue to give presentations three years down the road. But one of the most important is the impact the film and the subsequent question and answer session has on each audience. I feel the energy, hope, anger, and desire to effect change no matter the size of the turnout. This past fall I showed the film on the campus of Michigan State University. Of the Q&A session afterwards, my friend Bruce Baker said, "I felt my eyes tearing up at the words of two of the young men, in particular, who spoke so strongly about what the film meant to them. I have no doubt that your actions in making sure that this story is told will have a lasting beneficial impact on young people in this and other audiences. Your personal presence at the screening and direct engagement with the audience serves as a real inspiration to young people who need inspiration." Thank you, Bruce, I appreciate your comments and am thankful to all who have taken the time to come see the film -- sometimes more than once.

This month, I got to experience first-hand how abUSed: The Postville Raid engaged a group to produce concrete social change and it was indeed a highly magical moment. Before I go any further into what is truly a heartwarming holiday story, I need to make sure you understand one of the key components of it. The U visa:

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 created two new nonimmigrant visas for noncitizen victims of crimes, the T visa and the U visa. Both visas are designed to provide immigration status to noncitizens who are assisting or are willing to assist authorities investigating crimes.
The U visa is designed for noncitizen crime victims who (1) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity; (2) have information regarding the criminal activity; (3) assist government officials in the investigation or prosecution of such criminal activity; and (4) the criminal activity violated US law or occurred in the United States.
Family members may also be included on the petition including spouses, children, unmarried sisters and brothers under 18, mothers, fathers, as well as stepparents and adoptive parents.
U visas last for four years. After three years, U-visa holders may apply for lawful permanent residence. U-visa holders automatically qualify for employment authorization.

Back in April 2010, the state of Iowa asked me to escort six under-age Guatemalans (who had been arrested in the raid and deported) back to Iowa to appear as material witnesses in a case against the general manager of the plant in Postville. I had already gotten to know them through interviews, but our friendships deepened during the three months they spent in Iowa. I had helped raise funds to pay for part of attorney Sonia Parras-Konrad's fees who began the process to submit U visa requests for all of the kids. The manager was acquitted, but as a result of this case the state of Iowa changed the labor laws to better protect children. By the time I took the Guatemalan young people back home in July, their visa applications had all been submitted for consideration.
Tom H. Miller, Deputy Attorney General of Iowa, Agustin Obispo,
Tom Miller,Attorney General of Iowa, Jimy Gómez & Luis Argueta.

After months of hard work by people in Guatemala and in Iowa, including countless pro-bono hours by attorney Parras-Konrad, four U visa applications were approved in September 2011. While there was great joy and satisfaction, I felt a growing anxiety about what would become of not just these four young men who would be coming back to the US, but now they would be bringing parents, wives, children, and siblings -- all of whom did not yet have their work permits. Where would they live? Housing one person is different than 3 or 4. How would they eat? How would they get around? With all of this nervous energy, I sent an email to everyone in Iowa who I had gotten to know in the course of my talks and 38 visits to the state. I voiced my concerns to them.

As a result of that email, the Iowa Immigration Task Force of the NE Peace and Justice Committee in Decorah created the U Visa Resettlement Project. Building on some of my suggestions from the initial email, they took on the mammoth task of providing and coordinating help for the four young men and 11 family members for up to three months, including but not limited to locating and paying for housing, utilities and food; helping with ESL and GED lessons, and school registration of the school-age children; and providing blankets, towels, washcloths, and winter jackets and coats. The young people and their families arrived in the US on the 15th of December.
Because of the film's visibility and credibility, I was able to coordinate air transportation from Guatemala to Chicago, and ground transportation to bring the families to St. Bridget's Catholic church in Postville from Chicago, with the Consul General of Guatemala in Chicago, Hugo Hun. All paid for by the Guatemalan government. It does indeed take a village, rather, it takes two countries! Thank you to everyone at the Consular Office and Richard Avena in Guatemala and, especially, Sonia Parras-Konrad in Des Moines, IA, for making such a difference in the lives of Jimy, Agustin, Osbeli and Marcos, and their families.

I have started a new project: documenting the story of these young men and their families. My hope is that this next film, The U-Turn, contributes to the understanding of the U-Visa, one of the most effective and less-known immigration relief avenues available to abused immigrants in the United States.

I would like to continue to effect change for these young people and ask that you join me in helping support these families during this time of transition. During the next three months, a portion of any tax-deductible contribution made to The New York Immigration Coalition earmarked for the abUSed: The Postville Raid fund will go to the U Visa Resettlement Project.
Chicago Dec
Melisa Portillo, Agustin Obispo Porras, Yosily Chiquitá de Porras, Heyelen Porras Chiquitá,
Marcos Guerra, Josefina de Guerra, Jimy Gómez, Gludis López de Gómez & Alexis Gómez López

Si se puede, with a lot of help from our friends,
In solidarity and peace,
Luis Argueta

Contact Form


Email *

Message *