Pedro Lopez immigrated to Postville, Iowa, with his family as a young child. On May 12, 2008, Pedro Lopez’s mother, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was arrested, jailed, and deported to Mexico. Pedro was 13. Here, he describes the experience.
I’ll go back right to the day. I was in social studies going into my reading class. There was a helicopter circling around the northern part of town. There is a National Guard station up in Decorah so we thought maybe they got themselves a hold of a helicopter. They are doing an exercise. Prior to that there was a raid in Marshalltown. Some people saw that as a possibility of them getting closer to Postville, making connections and whatnot. When we did find out that it was actually immigration that came to Postville, ICE agents, it was a big hit for me. Both of my parents worked at Agriprocessors at that time. My dad worked in maintenance and my mom worked just on the line, is what we called it, which is where they process the meat. My mom worked from three in the morning until whenever they decided to end the day. My dad would go in around four or five in the afternoon. They tried to do that so there was an adult in the house. My mom was working her shift and I knew that she was there for sure. What happened after that was they did arrest my mom and she was scared because she heard stories about Marshalltown and how they would go into the houses.
Immigrants don’t sometimes know the full extension of the law and they would allow them sometimes to just come in not knowing what would be the consequences. My mom said she was here alone. She was not here with anybody else. She said I’m here alone, I don’t have any kids. If you are going to take me, take me, that’s all you are going to get. That’s really what they did. She was just scared. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew that she had a family. There are three of us. My youngest sister is a United States citizen, my older sister and I aren’t, so she was worried about us. And rightly so. She came from Mexico, 2,200 and some miles. They both crossed the desert, in horrendous conditions. She wasn’t going to give up all of that just because she was going to open her mouth and say oh yeah I have kids but she didn’t know that was one of the ways out of the actual process.
She was arrested and sent to five different prisons. She was sentenced to five months in jail and was deported on October 25th, 2008, which ironically is my dad’s birthday. My mom was taken out of the picture for a year. Us here at home it was very difficult. My sister was 17 years old going on 18. In a flip of a coin she had to become a mother of two. My dad had to work double as hard because we had half of our income cut. I kind of had to step up. I was at the age where, I was thirteen, so I could do a little bit more, which I did. You kind of had to leave some of your childhood behind. What I told Luis Argueta, who was actually here filming today, I told Luis it was hard for me. I was a man at that time. I was expected to be a man. And be a rock. Just going through the motions and make sure everything is alright and not really express my feelings. Well that was one of the things that was hurting the most was my feelings because I didn’t have my mom, I had to give up some of my childhood just because it wasn’t necessary at that time.
We were in constant fear of ICE coming back, most of the time we had half of our belongings packed. That was something that would eat at my mind like oh no, my dad is going to go and work, alright is he going to make it back? If not what are we going to do, what is going to be the process? Plus before my mom was deported, it was where is my mom? I wonder what she is doing, I wonder what she is feeling, I wonder if she is okay, I wonder if she is being treated right? It’s a lot on a thirteen-year-olds’ mind. Especially when they are thirteen, they are going through their own changes themselves. The fear of going to high school was completely not even in my mind because I was thinking I don’t know if I going to survive another day living in the United States. Why do I have to worry about the next four years of possibly being in Mexico? It was a hard time. It was a time where I realized that my story could do a lot of good things, the story of Postville could do some amazing, great things. It was a time of change, it was a time of growth, it was a time to strengthen our family, but it was a hard time nevertheless.
Interviewer: When your mother was in the five jails were you able to contact her at all?
She would send me letters. We took the decision of not going to visit her partly because it would be too much. It would have been nice to see her and nice to know she was okay. I never could see my mother in an orange jumpsuit behind a glass. Thinking of her as oh yeah she is supposed to be a criminal. She’s my mother. She has given up so much to give me the opportunity to where I’m at now.
She would send us cards, and that’s pretty much it. When she was in Mexico we would call her of course and get in contact with her, but while she was in jail we just kept it at letters. The letters were hard to swallow. She would try to be strong in the letters. She would say I’m fine, I’m doing great, how are you doing? I hope you are doing fine. This is going to be behind us. You are going to be fine. Just keep going, keep looking forward and don’t be afraid.
It was hard. It was hard again, you have the half packed house, dad working two jobs, sister uptight with pretty much everything because she is in charge of the house. It was just one more thing, but it was a thing I always looked forward to, it was a thing that gave me strength. It really inspired me to continue talking and when people questioned what I did I took that as a sign that well maybe they really don’t want to hear what happened. If they question my story it might be because they are really in the dark of what is happening in the immigration system. I took that and ran with it, just kept talking about my story, about that story of Postville and what I thought was wrong. Source: Pedro Arturo Lopez Vega Interview, in Community Voices: The Postville Oral History Project, 9-12. Available via The Postville Oral History Project (https://scholarworks.uni.edu/postville_oralhistory/11/).