Carla McCann /The Janesville Gazette
(Published August 9, 2007, 3:40 p.m.)
Wednesday was the first anniversary of the Whitewater raid on Star Packaging that sent shockwaves through the Hispanic community.
The occasion was marked by about 30 community members who gathered among wooden crosses, banners and candles to pray for families affected by the raid and the children left behind after deportations.
Voces de la Frontera, an employment advocacy group for Latinos, unveiled a mock Wisconsin historical marker declaring the factory "a monument to the nation's broken immigration system."
The marker is symbolic of the immigrants' hope for the future, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.
"As we remember the suffering of the past year, we also remember other struggles throughout our history where humanity has ultimately prevailed," Ortiz said.
The factory is mostly empty.
"One year later, Whitewater still is hurting," Ortiz said. "A good local business is all but closed, 90 local jobs have gone, families have been scarred by deportations and others continue to fight."
While the former employees have been weaving their way through immigration hearings and deportations, the owner of Star Packaging pleaded guilty in Walworth County Court to five counts of conspiracy to commit identity theft.
Allen Petrie is accused of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and keeping them employed despite being told by police that those employees had fake or stolen identities. He will be sentenced Oct. 15.
Many of the deportation hearings also are scheduled in October, said Jorge Islas-Martinez, president of the Latino support group Sigma America.
"Criminals don't work in factories," Islas said. "It's not a crime to work hard. The immigrants here are working to support their families and help make this nation stronger."
For Maria Delaluz Huitron, nothing has been the same since the raid.
The 55-year-old mother and grandmother was among the people arrested. Now she, too, waits to be deported.
"To be in this place (Star Packaging) makes me very sad for everything that happened," she said.
"They called us criminals," Huitron said. "That's not true. It's not a crime to work and support your family. We were humiliated and treated as criminals. We're human beings.
"God created this Earth for all of us, not just one race."
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