SPECIAL REPORT: 10 Years Later: Postville - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

SPECIAL REPORT: 10 Years Later: Postville

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POSTVILLE (KWWL) -

It's been 10 years since Federal investigators swarmed the small town of Postville, raiding a meat processing plant and arresting hundreds.

At the time the largest immigration raid in history, it left families shattered and the Postville community at the center of a national immigration debate.

For many who were there, the events of May 12, 2008 and the days that followed continue to weigh heavily.

"Chaos, everywhere," recalls Father Lloyd Paul Ouderkirk.

On that May morning, hundreds of immigration agents swarmed the Agriprocessors Kosher Meat Packing Plant.

"They pointed a gun at me and I thought of my daughter," a story Sister Mary McCauley remembers a mother telling her.

During the raid 389 undocumented workers from Mexico and Guatemala were arrested, marched out of the plant in massive lines and bused to the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo.

"Something I hope I never see again," says Postville native Stanley Martins, who witnessed the raid and the events following May 12th.

"What was really sad and heartbreaking to see the anguish and fear in the parents' eyes that were being taken away knowing that they had young children at home," said Martins.

Just blocks away from the plant, children were seeking safety.

"A little boy coming out of the church, he said to me, 'Can our friends come too?' My response was, 'Tell anyone who is alone or afraid to come to St. Bridget's,'" said Sister McCauley.

St Bridget's Catholic Church became a place of refuge. Sister McCauley and Father Loyd Paul Ouderkirk became a voice for the women and children.

"The right thing to do would be to stand with them because nobody was," said Father Ouderkirk.

For a week, the families slept, ate, and prayed in the small church.

More than 15 percent of the town's population were awaiting possible deportation, housed in local jails and the make-shift I.C.E. Headquarters behind the Cattle Congress gates.

"The integrity of the law, but total disregard for the integrity of the person, the integrity of the community, the integrity of family. That is when I really became a strong advocate for immigration reform because the law our government was supposedly upholding is a poor law, it is an outdated law. Something has to be done," said Sister McCauley.

On the Sunday following the raid, Sister McCauley and women tagged by I.C.E. Agents with ankle bracelets took their frustrations to the gates where their husbands were being held by armed guards.

"Those women stood tall with their ankle bracelets showing, they pulled their slacks up. They simply said, 'We are mothers. We came to feed our families. We are not criminals,'" said Sister McCauley.

In the days, months, even years that followed hundreds were deported, Agriprocessors filed bankruptcy, and the town of Postville felt the fall-out.

Plant executive Sholom Rubashkin was convicted on money laundering charges.

It was revealed the plant's work conditions were harsh, including child labor and sexual harassment.

"The main workers there were the Hispanics. Nobody put a gun to their head and told them they had to work there. They did it because it was a better way of life. Were they mistreated; absolutely. No question about it. Things needed to be cleaned up," said Martins.

In 2009, Agriprocessors was sold to a Canadian businessman. It has since been operated under the name Agri Star. The new company promised better wages, better working conditions, and compliance with immigration law.

"It is an entirely different plant," said Leigh Rekow, who has been mayor for nine years.

Rekow says the Latino population has started growing again.

"I think that is why most of the Latinos come back after the raid. They like our community, they like our school," said Mayor Rekow.

Some families, who were legal, never left. Wilmer Soi's family came from Guatemala to Postville just a year before the raids.

"There is money, there are jobs. You can go places. Its a better life than over there," said Soi, who has traveled back to Guatemala several times.

The business district is again filled with diversity. 

But while some wounds from that day have healed, immigration reform remains tangled in politics.

Sister McCauley believes on May 12th and every day since we, as a country, have failed.

"To be true Americans," said Sister McCauley.

Friday, May 11th, Sister McCauley and others will continue to call for immigration reform as they mark the 10 years since the Postville raid.

Everyone is invited for a prayer service and other events starting at 10 a.m. in Postville at St. Bridget's Catholic Church.

As for Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin, who was sentenced to 27 years for fraud and money laundering, his sentence was the first to be commuted by President Trump in December of last year.

That decision stirred backlash among those who felt the long sentence was in-part justice for the harsh working conditions of the plant.

Rubashkin was acquitted on the 67 misdemeanor charges of child labor violations.

He served a total of eight years.

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