CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The fifth anniversary of the massive immigration raid on the tiny northeast Iowa town of Postville prompted hundreds of people to march through the streets of Cedar Rapids on Friday.
The event called "A Walk for Justice" was a march from U.S. District Court in downtown Cedar Rapids to a church about a mile or so away. Participants included groups that rode buses for hours to take part in the call for immigration justice.
Postville's ordeal began on May 12, 2008 when federal agents descended on the Agriprocessors plant, then the country's largest kosher meatpacking facility. Agents arrested and detained 389 Agriprocessors workers. A good number in the country illegally were eventually deported. It was an action that tore apart families in that community.
Organizers of the march and prayer vigil wanted to remind Iowans that even five years after the raid there's still a lot of broken families in Postville and unanswered questions about U.S. immigration policy.
One marcher, Connie Hutchison from Cedar Rapids, had a simply answer when asked why she participated.
"Justice to be donefor immigration, yes," Hutchison said.
Marchers gathered up 389 roses at the start of the procession at the federal courthouse. Each symbolized one of the workers arrested by federal agents in what remains one of the largest single-site immigration raids in the nation's history. Many of those arrested were bused to a makeshift federal courthouse in Waterloo. A number pleaded guilty to identity theft charges, served a short time in jail and were deported to home countries.
Samuel Lopez was luckier than most who worked at the plant. He had a day off, but his brother was arrested and eventually deported to Guatemala. He came to the prayer vigil and march to remind people how families like his were broken and devastated.
"I think the government, the president, they don't see the effect on the families they deported," Lopez said.
A friend, Joanne Enyart, said many people in Postville saw the effect of broken families after the raid first hand.
"Anybody in school, they have classmates, they know families who were broken up. They knew classmates who had to leave. So yeah, it's impacted everybody in town in one way, shape or form," Enyart said.
At Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, speaker after speaker talked about the pain inflicted that day and the need to insure the federal government doesn't resort to such mass immigration raids again. Several said the experience of families and friends there is a prime example of why immigration reform should be a priority.
Pedro Lopez, a Postville resident who graduates high school this year, agreed with that thought. His mother was deported for a year before she was allowed to return to Iowa.
"It is priority one," Lopez said adding "there is no doiubt about it. We just have to get it done or else like I said it'll be forgotten and I don't want anything like this to happen again."
Counting the people detained and taken away that day in May, Postville lost a fifth of its population in just a few hours. Participants said the town has begun to heal, but it's a slow process and it's not complete.