Immigration raid divides town
Mona Kilborn holds her sign high - "An Illegal Alien Killed My Mother."
Her voice carries as she tells her story, and a crowd draws near.
"Let me describe the terror I felt when I woke up to find my mother dead and my husband bathed in blood," she says.
She arose from unconsciousness in 2007 to discover that an illegal immigrant ran a stop sign and smashed her van. Her mother died. Her husband suffered a broken back. The Hispanic driver possessed no license, and her criminal file showed prior problems.
Two blocks down, Roselia Ramirez grips her own poster, reading, "To those who say illegal immigrants take their jobs: Now that I'm not working at Agriprocessors, why aren't you?"
She speaks no English and turns to a family friend to translate what she feels.
"A lot of sadness. A lot of pain," she says. "I am a human being, just like everybody else."
She lifts her pant leg to reveal the electronic device that monitors her whereabouts. She awaits a court date and deportation to Mexico.
Both Kilborn and Ramirez pace Postville's pavement, along with hundreds of others responding to the nation's largest immigration raid, with one purpose - to initiate change.
Both loved. Both lost.
But both acknowledge the gap dividing them. Just as Kilborn stood on one side of North Lawler Street in Postville, Ramirez remained rooted on the other side of the immigration issue that continues to rip the town in two.
The tiny town
The town remains tucked within the comforts of acre upon acre of cropland, and if neon highway markers did not promise "Postville - 7 miles," it would be easy to wonder if the highway led anywhere.
Yet on May 12, the buses knew their destination.
One after another, they rolled in, carrying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Hours later, they left the community of about 2,200, taking with them about 400 undocumented workers.
The raid at Agriprocessors Inc. set records. It was the nation's largest crackdown on illegal immigration, and it happened at the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant.
A majority of the 390 detained employees claimed Guatemalan and Mexican citizenship, although some came from the Ukraine and Israel . Most were charged with identification theft and unlawful use of a Social Security card, and more than 30 already have been deported, according to Postville service groups.
On Sunday, these numbers were decried as a badge of shame.
Almost 2,000 people lined Postville's streets to join or protest the Interfaith Prayer Walk organized by several service organizations wanting to help those affected by the raid. Some came in tour buses from Chicago and the Twin Cities . Others flew from New Jersey . More still drove from Wisconsin.
A majority came to support the detained workers. They carried picket signs reading, "I came to look for a better life," "Please don't split more families," and "No more raids."
Yet about 100 more came to praise the raid's efforts, hoisting posters that read, "No more amnesty," "Deport illegals," and "Where is the fence?"
Standing room only
The air conditioner blasted full force inside St. Bridget's Catholic Church of Postville, yet it struggled to counterbalance the heat coming from the estimated 700 people packed inside the pews.
Another 200 stood shoulder-to-shoulder as religious leaders led prayer and song in three different languages - English, Spanish and sometimes Hebrew, as the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs helped organize the service.
Outside, another 300 or so stood on the grass, craning to hear the words through open doors.
Within an hour, the reverential quiet became a boiling brouhaha. Drummers beat their drums. Children cried. People with megaphones screamed, and the crowd picked up the chant, "Si se puede!" which translates as "Yes we can!"
They lined up in a haphazard single file. Some carried banners. Others hoisted picket signs. Some waved American flags and others draped the Mexican flag across their shoulders.
As one, they set out.
Although the procession was far from a parade, Postville residents lined the route all the same.
Marchers spanned more than a half-mile, taking up block after block of road, walking steadily until they arrived at their destination, the Agriprocessors plant.
Once a thriving business employing 900 workers, the plant now sported dozens of "Now Hiring" signs, along with one that read, "Agriprocessors - A Great Place to Work."
The crowd halted, and speakers addressed the crowd through a megaphone. Volunteers with the Postville Fire Department waited nearby, with hoses at the ready in case of unrest.
About one hour and one mile later, the march was winding down - until the procession turned onto North Lawler Street . Anti-amnesty protesters yelled through their own megaphones, "Go home!" as the prayer walkers chanted, "No more raids."
Law enforcement officers from five different agencies lined the streets, providing a barrier between the two factions.
The woman was in her 70s, and her wrinkles furrowed deeper as she frowned.
"I don't like this," she said. "This should have never happened to our town. This was a beautiful little town when I moved here."
She came to Postville about 55 years ago, and never did she ever dream she would witness such chaos.
When she heard about the rally, she gathered her lawn chair and moved to the main route to watch the hullabaloo.
"Things can't go on this way," she said.
The issue divides the town, said the woman who withheld her name because she worried about backlash if she commented.
She watched the rally's finale - several speeches delivered from a trailer - until the rain broke out. Hispanic children danced in the downpour, and nearby adults again picked up their chant, "Si se puede!"
But no amount of rain will wash away the hurt, she said.
"They are here today, but tomorrow, you all will be gone, and we will be left here," she said. "And then we will have to fix what has torn our town apart. But it's still a beautiful little town in my eyes. We have to get it straightened out."