Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America

Mark A. Grey, Michele Devlin, Aaron Goldsmithpostville

An inside view of a rural Iowa town torn apart by a failed immigration policy, plant mismanagement and a misguided view of diversity
“This fresh, thoughtful take on Postville shows a town crushed by greed, federal indifference and a badly flawed immigration system, all fueled by America’s demand for cheap food. It is a sobering read.” —Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch and Kosher Nation

Postville is an obscure meatpacking town in the northeast corner of Iowa with a population fewer than 2000. Here, in the most unlikely of places, in the middle of endless cornfields, unparalleled diversity drew the curiosity of international media and outside observers. In 2008, however, people who hoped Postville would succeed declared the town’s experiment in multiculturalism dead.
It was not native Iowans, or the newly-arrived Orthodox Jews, or the immigrant workers and refugees from around the world who made Postville fail. Postville’s momentum towards a sustainable multicultural community was stopped in its tracks when the town was crushed by a massive raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on May 12th 2008. 20% of the town’s population was arrested, forcing the closure of the town’s largest employer, a kosher meatpacking plant. The raid exposed the disastrous enforcement of immigration policy, the exploitation of Postville by activists, and disturbing questions about the packing house’s operators.
Today, with managers sitting in jail, workers in federal prison or deported, and an influx of new immigrants to fill their spots, the town is attempting to survive a near terminal blow. Grey and Devlin – with more than 10 years’ experience in Postville, 20 years’ experience in meat-packing plants and a life time working with immigrant populations – join with Goldsmith – the only Jew ever to serve on the city council – to describe the real events in Postville, misrepresented by media and diversity professionals and detractors alike.
The successes and failures of Postville provide lessons for the thousands of rural communities across the country facing rapid ethnic change in a global economy. For more information, visit
Mark A Grey, Ph.D. is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the founder and director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration (ICILI), an award-winning organization providing training to communities, organizations, and employers on immigrant and refugee issues.
Michele Devlin, Ph.D is professor of public health at the University of Northern Iowa. She is Director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and has more than 25 years’ experience working with public agencies, corporations, and government organizations addressing refugee, at-risk and minority issues.
Aaron Goldsmith is President of Transfer Master Products, Inc., a manufacturer of custom hospital beds in Postville, Iowa. He was granted a Rabbinical Degree by Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel. Aaron Goldsmith was appointed councilman to the City of Postville in 2001 and subsequently won election.
Mark A Grey and Michele Devlin live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Aaron Goldsmith lives in Postville, Iowa.
“This is a book that had to be written, and Mark Grey and his colleagues are the right people – perhaps the only people – to write it….Anyone who wants to understand immigration and diversity – and needs to understand that they aren’t necessarily the same thing – must read this book. So must those who think this nation can survive without immigrants, and those who think any of this will be easy. Postville U.S.A. is both a great yarn and a signpost to the American future.”
—Richard C. Longworth, Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, Senior Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs Former senior correspondent, Chicago Tribune and United Press
“This book is an important close-up look at how the global economy, US labor policy, and a dysfunctional immigration system – forces beyond any city council’s control – have buffeted one community, and how residents drew on traditional Midwestern tolerance to accommodate this change.”
—Jennifer Ludden, Winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Award and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Award for Excellence in Journalism
“Postville has been called an inflection point in America’s immigration debate and the most egregious case of abusive interventionism in decades. This book offers a timely inside portrait of the town, its background, struggles, and hopes. The authors’ longtime, intimate local knowledge makes this an invaluable historical document. Their subject matter expertise as social scientists makes it a piercing wake-up call to our nation and generation.”
—Erik Camayd-Freixas, Professor, Florida International University; Federal Court Interpreter; and Co-Author, Postville: La Criminalización De Los Migrantes [Postville: Criminalization of the Migrants]
“Postville, U.S.A exposes the absurdity of destroying a small town in the name of enforcing archaic immigration laws….But it is more than just the story of a tragedy. It’s a testament to one small Iowa community’s citizens’ refusal to let adversity destroy their town.”
—Bob Bruce, The Bob Bruce Radio Experience, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Postville, U.S.A.: Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America

Mark A. Grey, Michele Devlin, Aaron Goldsmith
Paper, 200 pages
Current Affairs
978-1-934848-64-7 [p]
978-1-934848-97-5 [e]