Luther College, University of Northern Iowa create 'The Postville Project'

Project website holds archival information about the 2008 immigration raid in Postville, Iowa.

Five years ago, on May 12, 2008, agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency conducted an immigration raid at the Agriprocessors, Inc. plant in the small northeast Iowa community of Postville. At the time, this was the largest single site immigration raid in U.S. history, detaining approximately 400 workers and displacing almost 20 percent of Postville's population in a matter of hours.              

The raid and its aftermath became the focus of national attention, and it soon became apparent that a large amount of published and ephemeral material was being generated and that a process should be developed to collect and preserve the multimedia being disseminated. Shortly after the raid independent archival projects were launched at Luther College and at the University of Northern Iowa.            

Luther College campus pastor David Vasquez was heavily involved in post-raid relief efforts and worked closely with documentary filmmaker Luis Argueta while Argueta shot footage for the film that would become "AbUSed: The Postville Raid." Argueta and Vasquez recognized the need to develop a preservation space for all of the raw material being created during the filmmaking, including special footage of post-raid relief efforts and hundreds of hours of personal interviews with those directly affected by the raid. The two approached Luther College archivist Rachel Vagts and together they began strategizing about methods that could be used for preservation of the film material.

In the weeks immediately following the immigration raid, Thomas Kessler, social sciences bibliographer at the University of Northern Iowa Rod Library, initiated a project to develop an interdisciplinary archive of materials to provide social, cultural and economic context to the raid, as well as information about subsequent effects of the raid on individuals, families and the community of Postville.

In early 2009, after realizing members of both institutions were working on similar initiatives to collect, preserve and make public the materials being created around the Postville story, the idea of "The Postville Project: Documenting a Community in Transition" was born. With the development of a project team from both institutions, the initial preservation ideas have evolved into a digital archive that makes public the collections of materials that have been created to document the immigration raid and the larger Postville story.

"The Postville Project" has been supported and sustained by Luther College and UNI since its inception in 2009. The project has received a total of $35,000 from the State Historical Society of Iowa between 2010 and 2012 in the form of Historical Resource Development Project grants.  

Presently, the project holds 17 collections, 12 of which are currently displayed on the project website. Archiving of physical materials is focused at the Luther College Archives and maintenance of digital resources is held primarily at UNI. The collections contain mixed media materials from sources such as the state of Iowa Attorney General's office, the Iowa Department of Labor, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Sister Mary McCauley, the Decorah Area Faith Coalition, the Postville Response Coalition, Argueta and several local community members.             

The project team continues seeking out new materials for inclusion in the archive. Kessler and members of the UNI project team are finalizing an "Index of Related Resources" that will be made available to users via the project website and display a thorough list of resources that document Postville before, during and after the raid. For more information on the project, to donate materials or to view the current collections visit: www.postvilleproject.org