POSTVILLE, Iowa - About a thousand protesters descended on a small town in northeastern Iowa on Sunday, decrying the raid of a meatpacking plant that arrested nearly 400 residents and calling for a change in federal immigration policies.
Postville, a town with about 2,200 residents, was pushed to the forefront of a national debate when federal immigration officials raided Agriprocessors — the nation's biggest kosher meatpacking plant — in May in the largest raid of its kind in the United States. Most of those arrested were Guatemalan and Mexican nationals who lived in the area.
Sunday's protesters — many arriving by bus from the Twin Cities and Chicago — circled the streets of Postville on a route about a mile long. Some clutched banners and signs such as one that read, "United for immigrant and worker rights."
Rabbi Harold Kravitz of the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn., spoke when the rally paused near the driveway of Agriprocessors, on the outskirts of town.
Shouting into a portable microphone, he said the protesters wanted to stop the criminalization of people who come to the U.S. simply to make a living.
"People have come here from Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Chicago, New York and New Jersey ... because we care," Kravitz said.
The rally also drew about 75 anti-immigration protesters.
Claire Jamison, who said she'd traveled from Minneapolis, wore a hat emblazoned with a U.S. Border Patrol logo and held a sign reading "What would Jesus do? Obey the law."
"I'm just so fed up as an American. We have laws. Why can't they obey our laws?" Jamison said. "I empathize with those people, but they are not victims. They should not have even been here."
About a half-dozen Agriprocessors workers stood watching the rally from just inside the company's gates.
Getzel Rubashkin, an Agriprocessors employee and a member of the family that owns it, approached reporters outside of the plant as the rally moved on. He said it was unfair to blame his family and Agriprocessors for the raid and suggested that unspecified competitors and enemies of the plant were behind the enforcement action.
"Agriprocessors doesn't have a position on immigration reform ... it's a business," Rubashkin said, emphasizing that he was not speaking on behalf of the company.
Many residents appeared largely supportive. Cindy Moser, 53, from nearby Elkader, said her daughter and son-in-law were marching while she watched her two grandchildren.
"If they want to come and work here I say fine," Moser said. "We all saw the effect of this. My grandson, he told me, 'Grandma, they took my friends away.' I hope this stops."
Resident Dave Hartley, 50, said he didn't fault protesters for coming to his town to make their point.
"It's not their fault," he said. "It just didn't need to get to this, to a boiling point. People knew what was going on in there, in Agriprocessors, and this could have been dealt with another way."