Palauan Workers Relocated to Jobs, Housing

Post a Comment » Written on December 1st, 2008     
Filed under: News
DECORAH, IA (December 1, 2008) – The Decorah Covenant Church will close its emergency shelter for Palauan former employees of the Agriprocessors plant because they all have found work and housing elsewhere, says Donalee Burns, administrative assistant.

The church will close the shelter Wednesday, when the last of the Palauans are scheduled to leave. Roughly 20 workers from the island nation had been staying at the church’s building since November 15.

The church began housing the Palauans after AgriProcessors, a kosher meatpacking plant located in nearby Postville, did not pay them and the utilities in their apartments were shut off. News accounts report the plant had deducted money from their previous checks to pay rent and utilities, but had not made the payments.

SnowmanThe employees from the South Pacific nation were recruited to work at Agriprocessors after 389 primarily Guatemalan workers were arrested during an immigration raid May 12. The Palauans are in the country legally.

The former bank building in which the Palauans have been staying is being remodeled into a worship center, but currently is not being used. Seventeen churches from the Decorah Faith Coalition have been providing for the Palauans’ needs.

The former employees have been “extremely grateful,” Burns says. They also have been adjusting to the Iowa winter, which has sometimes been humorous.

Several of the Palauans attempted to build a snowman, but were unsuccessful, having never seen snow. Finally, they asked the assistance of a girl who was passing by. She showed them how to make snowballs of decreasing size and stack them, Burns says, laughing.

Last week, the Palauans gave the local residents a taste of the island’s culture when they did traditional dances as part of a benefit concert.

The Decorah church also has been working with the faith coalition to support nine Guatemalans who were arrested at the plant and served five-month prison sentences. In October, the federal government sent them back to the area to be witnesses in criminal trials against former AgriProcessors managers who were charged with numerous immigration and labor violations.

The material witnesses are being housed in a privately owned house and the rectory of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church. The government did not pay for their relocation, but has provided them with work permits in the last week.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney told the Des Moines Register that the alternative would have been to keep the men in jail as material witnesses. He added they probably would be deported when the testimony was no longer needed.

The company filed for bankruptcy and shut down operations, although the court-appointed trustee says a poultry line may resume this week. Former Agriprocessors chief executive officer Sholom Rubashkin is in jail on federal charges of defrauding First Bank Business Capital of St. Louis, which recently foreclosed on a $35 million line of credit.

Rubashkin also was recently charged with conspiring to hire illegal immigrants, and other company officials have faced related charges, including conspiring to harbor undocumented aliens and aggravated identity theft.

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