Updated by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) -
People gathered outside the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday afternoon to mark five years since the immigration raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat packing plant in Postville.
On May 12, 2008, agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the plant and detained 389 workers. At the time, it was the largest single-site immigration raid in the nation's history.
After the raid, the workers ICE took into custody were bussed to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo. Many of them were charged with identity theft and spent months in prisons across the country before being deported.
Organizers of Friday's event said it is not only to remember what happened five years ago but also to bring attention to the need for changes to immigration policies. They had a specific message to say outside the US Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Iowa, which prosecuted those arrested in the raid.
Event speaker David Vasquez, a campus pastor at Luther College in Decorah, said the group of more than 200 people gathered outside the US Courthouse Friday sought reconciliation with those inside the building.
"We gather specifically here because this court was instrumental in the prosecution that followed the raid, and that's part of the concern that we had in the use of enforcement in that way," Vasquez said. "We also gather here, significantly, because Senator Grassley has one of his offices here. This is giving us an opportunity to bring our message directly to him and other elected officials."
People at the commemoration clutched red carnations - a total of 389 of them for each of the 389 people detained that day.
The gathering at the courthouse and subsequence Walk for Justice to nearby Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for an interfaith prayer service were also cries for immigration reform.
"We remember what happened in Postville because it highlights the issues that we are facing with a broken immigration system and its impact on our communities," Vasquez said, adding much of immigration reform is shaped by fear.
"It's often shaped by the fear of what happens around the borders and large cities," he said. "Midwest America needs to be heard. Our population in the Midwest needs the support and the influx of new immigrants, who are willing to come work our land, work with our industries and help us to grow."
Maria Lopez attended the event. She lives in Postville and works at AgriStar, the company that bought the meat packing plant after Agriprocessors went bankrupt months after the raid.
Lopez, however, worked at the plant under its former owners and knows the desire for immigration reform firsthand. Her brothers were deported after the raid.
"There was much pain because my family was separated," she said through a translator.
Vicki Hoffman also attended the event. She was a teacher at Postville's middle school the day the raid happened and saw the way it devastated the community.
"Sadly, it tore people up," she said. "People did not know where their mothers were, where their fathers were. It was a lot of chaos as well. A lot of confusion."
Those gathered at Friday's commemoration and Walk for Justice said they'll never forget the past but choose to focus on changing the future.
"Our families came as immigrants over 100 years ago," Hoffman said. "I know, as a Catholic, I believe in Catholic social justice, which states that human mobility is a right and not a crime."
KWWL reached out to the US Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Iowa to see if they wanted to respond to either Friday's event or the five-year anniversary of the raid. The office declined to comment.
Watch KWWL Sunday at 10 for a special report highlighting Postville's process of rebuilding since the raid.
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