Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • Years after immigration raid, Iowa town feels poorer and less stable

    POSTVILLE, Iowa—A group of Jewish boys in yarmulkes and winter coats walked past the "Taste of Mexico" restaurant on Lawler Street last week on their way home from school. Minutes later, a Somali man wearing a keffiyeh scarf around his neck passed by, perhaps on his way to the town's makeshift mosque on Main Street.

    This improbably diverse rural town of about 2,000 people in northeastern Iowa suffered a near-fatal shock more than three years ago when a federal immigration raid scooped up 20 percent of its population in a single day. An ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher Jewish family from Brooklyn bought the town's defunct meatpacking plant in 1987 and attracted workers from Israel, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The plant became the largest producer of kosher beef in the world. When the plant was raided one spring morning in May 2008, most of the workers on shift were Guatemalan and Mexican, and undocumented. Many workers later said they had been physically or sexually abused at the plant, and at least 57 minors were illegally employed there, some as young as 13.

    Six months later, the plant shut down abruptly. Sholom Rubashkin, the chief executive, was convicted of fraud and sent to prison. The national and local news media documented the near-demise of the town that followed, as businesses were shuttered overnight and hundreds of homes abandoned. The town shrank to nearly half its former size, as many of the illegal immigrants who were not netted in the raid left out of fear or because they couldn't find a job.

    Immigration is one of the most contentious issues facing the Republican presidential candidates as they prepare for Saturday's debate in Des Moines, sponsored by Yahoo! and ABC News. Earlier this year, Rick Perry's candidacy suffered because of his support for allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities in Texas. Last month, Newt Gingrich struck a moderate tone on the subject, saying, "I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century." Other candidates say Perry and Gingrich support policies that amount to amnesty for people who have broken the law. Yahoo News visited Postville to examine what immigration looks like in the Republican presidential campaign's first battleground state, one that is 90 percent white but that has outposts like Postville that are changing the state's ethnic makeup and driving its population growth. Though still less than 4 percent of the population, Iowa's foreign-born population increased by 159 percent between 1990 and 2008, while the native-born population increased by only 5.7 percent.

    Today, the meatpacking plant, under new ownership, uses the federal e-verify system to check workers' immigration status. The hourly wage on the poultry line is higher than it was before the raid, but few Iowan-born locals work there. Ridding this small community of its illegal workforce, far from freeing up jobs for American-born citizens, has resulted in closed businesses and fewer opportunities. Even nearly four years later, many homes still remain empty, and taxable retail sales are about 40 percent lower than they were in 2008.

    In order to staff its still low-paying jobs with legal immigrants, the new owner of the plant has recruited a hodgepodge of refugees and other immigrants, who often leave the town as soon as they find better opportunities, creating a constant churn among the population. The switch to a legal work force has made the community feel less stable, some locals say, and it's unclear if Postville will again become a place where immigrants will put down roots, raise children, and live in relative harmony with their very different neighbors.

    'For me, it was a fairy tale'

    Postville thinks of itself as a place where people of all backgrounds and nationalities can come, do hard and unsavory work, and get ahead. Svetlana Vanchugova, who teaches English classes to non-native speakers at the high school, is one such immigrant. Called "Ms. Lana" by her students, Vanchugova came to Postville in 1995 from Ukraine in order to escape an unhappy marriage and to start a new life with her two sons. "For me it was a fairy tale when I first came to this little town," she says.

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  • Report: Thousands of Florida cops keep jobs, despite ‘moral violations’

    Florida cop German Bosque has been arrested three times, fired five times, and was flagged in a record-breaking 40 internal affairs disciplinary investigations. And he's still on the beat.

    The Sarasota Herald-Tribune's two-part investigation into Florida's police disciplinary system reveals that thousands of Florida officers have stayed on the job despite evidence implicating them in crimes or serious misconduct. And the agency responsible for keeping officers in line too often declines to investigate, the paper says.

    Bosque was thrilled to find out he led the state in the number of disciplinary investigations. He told the Herald Tribune reporters:

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  • If a wife suspects her husband abuses children, does she have to tell anyone?

    Fine (AP)ESPN has released recordings that suggest that Laurie Fine, the wife of former Syracuse University associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine, suspected that her husband was sexually abusing a ballboy for the team.

    Was Laurie Fine legally obligated to tell the police about her suspicions?

    No--not even if it could be proved that she was guilty of knowingly allowing sexual abuse to occur in her own home.

    Individuals rarely have a legal obligation to report a crime, including child abuse, says Deborah Epstein, a law professor and director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University. In New York state, where Syracuse University is located,  only people in certain professions--including most medical professionals, school officials, social workers, day care workers, and some others--have a legal obligation to report child abuse. (In California, all people are obligated to report crimes against children under 14 years old.)

    "I know everything that went on, you know," Laurie Fine says to Bobby Davis in 2002 on the recording. Davis and his stepbrother, both former Syracuse ballboys, have accused Bernie Fine of molesting them when they were children. A third accuser has also come forward, saying he was abused by Bernie Fine in 2002. (Laurie Fine told Syracuse's Post Standard that parts of the recordings are accurate but that they may have been edited. Bernie Fine has not been charged with a crime, and he denies the allegations.)

    In the recordings, Laurie Fine appears to explain why she didn't step in to stop the alleged abuse. "If it was another girl like I told you, it would be easy to step in because you know what you're up against. ... (When) it's another guy, you can't compete with that. It's just wrong, and you were a kid. You're a man now, but you were a kid then."

    To be criminally liable, Laurie Fine would have had to have participated in the alleged abuse or have tried to actively hide her husband from the law.

    New York has a "spousal privilege" law, which means the spouse of an accused person cannot be compelled to testify against him or her in court in most cases. That wouldn't be an issue in Davis's case, because the alleged abuse happened in the 1980s, well beyond the federal statute of limitations of 10 years for crimes involving the sexual abuse of children.

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  • Brownback apologizes to teen tweeter: ‘My staff over-reacted’

    Sullivan (Twitter)Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is apologizing to the teen who insulted him over Twitter last week.

    "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.  Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms," Brownback said in a statement to Yahoo! News on Monday. Brownback Communications Manager Sherriene Sontag-Jones says the governor has no plans to personally reach out to the high school student.

    Sontag-Jones contacted Emma Sullivan's principal last week and said the 18-year-old had made an inappropriate comment about the governor over Twitter. The principal asked Sullivan to submit a written apology to the governor for her comment. Sullivan told Yahoo! News Sunday night that she would not apologize.

    She wrote "Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot," to her 60 followers during Brownback's speech to high school students at the state Capitol. His staff found the comment while scouring social media sites for his name.

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  • Living in cars: 60 Minutes on homeless children in Florida

    Austin and Arielle next to the truck where they live with their father (60 Minutes)

    60 Minutes' Scott Pelley traveled to Seminole County, Florida to talk to children who are living in cars with their families. Florida is home to a third of America's homeless families, as the construction industry's collapse left many formerly working-class residents of the state to face extreme poverty for the first time. You can watch the moving 15-minute video on CBS's site.

  • Kansas teen won’t apologize to Gov. Brownback over ‘you suck’ tweet

    Sullivan (via Twitter)Shawnee Mission East teen Emma Sullivan insulted Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback over Twitter while on a school field trip to the state capitol last week.

    "Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot," she wrote to her 60 followers who tuned in to her sporadic updates about the Twilight films and Justin Bieber. In fact, Sullivan hadn't said a word to the governor during his brief speech, and she now says the Twitter comment was just an "inside joke" among her high school friends who were also on the Youth in Government field trip and disagreed with Brownback's politics.

    But the humor was lost on members of Brownback's staff, who found the tweet while scouring social media sites for his name and alerted Sullivan's high school principal. The principal reprimanded Sullivan and demanded she write an apology to the governor.

    Sullivan says he better not hold his breath. After originally acquiescing to her principal's request, the 18-year-old took her story to Kansas papers and news stations--and now to national outlets--and has changed her mind.

    "He was very angry, right off the bat," Sullivan said of her principal, Karl Krawitz. "He was extremely scared about it. He made it very clear that he wasn't happy."

    Sullivan agreed to write the apology letter "to get it out of the way," she says. "I didn't want to deal with it because I'm in the process of applying to school and am trying to keep my reputation good."

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  • What would Gingrich’s plan for dealing with illegal immigration look like?

    Gingrich at Tuesday's debate (AP)Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich became the first Republican candidate for the presidential nomination to explicitly spell out how he would deal with the estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal immigration status at Tuesday night's debate.

    "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out," Gingrich said, adding that he was willing to "take the heat" for advocating a more "humane" approach on the issue.

    Gingrich put forth two ideas--an employer-controlled guest worker program and juries of local citizens who would review the cases of illegal immigrants and decide which of them would get to stay.

    Gingrich's first idea is called a "red card" program, and is the brainchild of Helen Krieble. Employers would circumvent the immigration system's bureaucracy and give out temporary guest worker visas to immigrants that they would fund. Those immigrants would only be allowed to live in the United States as long as they were employed with their sponsor. If they had children while in America, those children would not be granted automatic citizenship under the 14th amendment, The Washington Post's Suzy Khimm explains.

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  • Immigrant advocates want to recall Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

    Brewer signing Pearce's recall papers (AP)The group that helped oust Russell Pearce, the powerful anti-immigrant Arizona politician, earlier this month is now setting its sights on Jan Brewer, the state's Republican governor, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

    Randy Parraz, one of the co-founders of Citizens for a Better Arizona, told Yahoo News that the group using its website to recruit volunteers who are interested in recalling Brewer. If enough volunteers sign up, the group will start its drive to collect the nearly 450,000 signatures needed to get Brewer's name on the ballot before her term is up in 2014.

    A recent poll from Public Policy Polling suggests this effort may face an uphill battle. Only 32 percent of voters said they would support a recall of Brewer, even though 49 percent of voters disapprove of her.

    Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America who has been criticized for his "tent city" prisons and chain gains, is up for reelection next year. Parraz says his group is mobilizing to knock on doors in Maricopa County to ask voters not to elect him again. The sheriff has held his office since 1992, and he tells the Arizona Republic that he's not afraid of the campaign. "I've raised $6 million," he told the paper. "I'll probably go out and raise another $6 million."

    "By the time we're done with him he won't be able to be elected," Parraz says.

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  • Three American college students arrested in Cairo

    Three American college students were arrested during protests in Cairo and accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at police on Tuesday.

    A video on Egyptian state news, via The Washington Post, shows the students lined up in front of a table with their identification cards.

    The three students--Gregory Porter, 19, of Glenside, Penn., Derrik Sweeney, 19, of Jefferson City, Mo., and Luke Gates, 21, of Bloomington, Ind.--were on an exchange program, American University spokeswoman Morgan Roth told Yahoo News. Sweeney is a student at Georgetown University. It's unclear if the students have been officially charged with any crimes, Roth says--though CNN reports that they were accused of throwing Molotov cocktails. "We're working with the embassy to make sure we're in a position to monitor their whereabouts and well-being at all times," she said.

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  • Occupy Wall Street protesters wear Snuggies, sleep sitting up to get around new Zuccotti rules

    A protester draped in a snuggie (Courtesy of photographer Tom Martinez)

    ZUCCOTTI PARK, New York -- Early Monday morning, a new enemy dogged the small diehard group of Occupy Wall Streeters who have refused to leave a corner of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, even in the week since New York police officers raided the camp and took away their tents, blankets and other belongings: It started raining.

    Among the hardline occupiers is Sonya Zink, who has been living in the park since the movement began in mid September. The night before, the protesters slept sitting up, so as not to violate the new rules designed to discourage anyone from again camping out in the area. Prior to last week's raid, Zuccotti Park was home to a thriving mini-city, equipped with a "people's kitchen," information booths, medic's tent, library and post office box.

    "Sometimes they wake us up even if we're sitting up," Zink said of the dozens of police officers and security guards ringing the nearly empty fenced-in area in downtown Manhattan. Zink was among the 200 protesters arrested last week in the NYPD's middle-of-the-night raid, when she linked arms with other protesters at the center of the encampment to protect the kitchen. She lifted up her shirt to show what she said was a bootprint-shaped bruise from where a police officer kicked her during her arrest.

    SEE ALSO: Sparse turnout at Occupy Wall Street park a week after eviction

    She was released little more than 24 hours after her arrest--at which point, she returned to the park, ready to adjust to the tougher rules.

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