Sunday, January 7, 2007

In Worthington, the Absence of Family Members is Felt

Three weeks after a raid swept up Esperanza Ventura’s husband and 229 other workers at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant, many Hispanic immigrants are grappling with the sudden absence of family members.

Ventura lost two in the raid by federal agents: her husband, Anselmo Perez Verduo, in federal custody in Georgia, and a sister, Maria Amelia Ventura, who is to be deported.

Ventura, 25, and her baby are living with another sister and the sister’s husband, who has proper documents and works at Swift.

The raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents netted 1,282 workers at six Swift plants around the country. Federal officials conducted the sweep after getting a tip about an identity-theft ring involving company workers.

Production hasn’t returned to normal at the Worthington plant, Swift officials said last week. Area pork producers have been hurt by market fluctuations. Some Main Street businesses, especially those that depend heavily on Hispanic customers, also are counting losses.

“My business is down, much down,” said Jesus De Leon, owner of El Azteca restaurant and grocery in Worthington.

“I see a lot of people moving away, a lot of apartments empty,” he said. “I’m scared. I have a lot of loans at the bank.”

The raid affected scores, perhaps hundreds, of families whose sole or primary breadwinner is suddenly gone.

Sister Karen Thein, of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, spent 15 years ministering to the poor in Guatemala and has worked closely with the burgeoning Hispanic population of Worthington, which, before the raid, made up close to a third of the city’s 12,000 people. [...Snip] La Crosse Tribune
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