Reflections on a Summer at FAN

By Kaitlin Liroff, FAN Intern

My work at FAN has brought to my awareness several different issues, including but not limited to: human trafficking, immigration/migrant rights and reform, torture, imprisonment, pesticides, the environmental impact of food production, health, and vegetarianism. It’s been an eye-opening experience to say the least. These disparate issues that seem to be mutually exclusive from one another are in fact inspired by a singular value: respect for the dignity of life.

My research on immigrant/migrant rights for FAN brought me in the first week of my internship to an account of the Iowa Postville Raid, which occurred on May 12, 2008. This raid was the first time undocumented immigrants with no prior criminal record were tried criminally subsequent to a raid instead of being immediately deported. During this raid, 389 individuals were arrested and charged with criminal identity theft due to the presence of fabricated papers for employment. This charge carries a two-year prison sentence. All defendants were offered a plea agreement of the lesser charge of document fraud, for an incarceration of five months and then deportation. Essentially, they had no choice but to perjure themselves as not accepting the plea agreement would lead almost assuredly to a long, drawn-out legal battle and guilty verdict followed by a two-year imprisonment and then deportation.

Over the next three days, 297 of those arrested individuals where charged in groups of 10 and sentenced in groups of five. Accounts of the raid depict the immigrants as being shackled by both hands and feet as they were processed at the National Cattle Congress, a fairground, in Waterloo, Iowa. Since this raid, the Supreme Court ruled in 2009, that individuals can only be charged with document fraud if they knowingly commit the crime. This culpability was missing from the 297 defendants in the Postville raid, as most of them who were employed under a false social security number, didn’t fill out their own employment papers, or didn’t understand what they were doing. This raid of the Agriprocessing plant in Postville, Iowa, is seen by many as a tragic instance in which justice was obscured and denied. There is no coincidence that at a meat-processing plant individuals were treated like cattle and processed like food. Like the commodity which they prepared, these migrant workers were packaged for deportation like steaks, bought and sold. It all begins with the commoditization of life.

I have become increasingly aware that today we live in fast-paced world, with “fast-tracked’ trials, in which true justice is denied, fast food restaurants in which nutrition is ignored, and get our food from farms which produce quickly and in bulk with little regard to the environment, the rights of the workers or the health of consumers. It has become clear to me that we are living too quickly. In our efforts to be efficient, to compete in a global market, to keep pace with the economy and the news and the corporations, we are attempting the superhuman and in so doing it appears that we are losing our humanity.

In the Postville raids, by not assessing each case individually and by applying a sort of one-size fits all criminality, we reduced people who were simply hoping to find a better life from their native Honduras and Mexico to criminals. By over crowding cows and chickens in sheds to increase the rate of production and relaxing food standards, we may have our food more quickly, but at the cost of nutrition, health and our environment. The use of pesticides may enable the production and processing of fruits and vegetables with more assurance and in bulk, but may also have dangerous ramifications on our health and that of the world, such as bacterial resistance, human sickness and over-farmed land plots that have lost their fertility due to a lack of ecological diversity.

It is this interconnectedness to which FAN has opened my eyes. That the way we treat animals and our environment is a reflection of the way we treat each other. Whether we treat people like cattle as in the Postville raids, like commodities to be bought or sold in complicated cases of human trafficking and labor exploitation, or like refuse to be discarded, abused and forgotten as in detention centers like Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and the many national jails and prisons. When we forget the connectedness of all of life, it becomes easy to destroy. However, people, health, the environment and animals can never truly be bought or owned by corporation, because we exist in spite of it, and as long as there are some people, some righteous individuals who work towards something better … good can still triumph!

I finally understand (whether I go on to live it out is the true test) that having a consistent ethic, like that of Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, St. Francis, St. Clare of Assisi, and all of the people I have met these past weeks, means to live one’s life in a way which treats and advocates for the promotion of all life with respect.

People like Sr. Margaret Mary, whose belief in the importance of valuing people translates into her belief in not wasting food.

Christy, whose respect for the earth and consuming responsibly can also be seen in her kindness to others.

Valerie, whose passion for immigrant rights is clearly demonstrated in her warmth and acceptance towards newcomers

Patrick, whose overall zeal for social change starts with the exuberance of his personal interactions, with a warmness and an eagerness to spread knowledge.

Ben, whose experiences at St. Francis College have inspired him to work as an intern at FAN this summer.

Matt, whose work in social media and open technology can be seen in an overall generosity of spirit.

My time with FAN has given me a new appreciation of Thoreau’s Walden, which I resentfully read as required reading in 10th grade. I have ventured into an unconventional woods: the bustling Washington, D.C. The Franciscan spirit of social action and radical acceptance has been inspiring and empowering. I have been shown our connection to the earth and to each other, and have been challenged to live more deliberately, to think more expansively and proceed more carefully.

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Published in: on August 22, 2011 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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