Officials say 90% of the Latino students at Postville high school aren’t in class today and a third of all the students in kindergarten through eighth grade are absent. Nearly 400 workers at the meatpacking plant in Postville were arrested Monday on immigration and identity theft violations.
"Traditionally after a raid the immigrant population will go underground and take their kids with them and so the school then has to spend an enormous amount of time to go back out into the field and find out where these children are," Postville superintendent David Strudhof says. "…Our intent is to bring back a sense of day-to-day normalcy as soon as possible, but we’ve got to get them back to school first."
Some families frightened by news of the federal raid sought refuge at the Catholic church in Postville while others apparently fled town. The superintendent says he and his staff are trying to convince the Latino families who remain that the school is a safe place. "There’ll be no raids at the school. There’ll be no INS agents coming around the school…to snatch their children up," Strudhof says. "That isn’t going to happen."
Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge says it appears all the children of the immigrants arrested in Monday’s raid at a meatpacking plant in Postville were taken in by relatives or friends. "The first concern was that children yesterday were cared for and had a caretaker," Judge says. The state had been prepared to place children in foster care if their parents were arrested, leaving the children homeless.
State Senator Mark Zieman, a Republican from Postville, says everyone in town is concerned about the kids. "There were people working with kids last night yet at 10 o’clock last night making sure that they had a safe place to go to and know that they were amongst friends," Zieman says.
According to Zieman, federal agents roared into Postville from all directions with sirens blaring Monday morning and it soon turned into a "news media spectacular."
"ICE is doing a job that they’re charged with doing, but I do feel it is fallout from a failed system where the government has failed to act on the immigration policy that needs to be addressed," Zieman says.
Federal authorities say Monday’s raid at the kosher meatpacking plant is the largest of its type in U.S. history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Claude Arnold says 390 people face immigration charges. "Of those, 56 were released for humanitarian concerns; 314 of those arrested are men; 76 are women," Arnold says, "and the nationalities represented of those arrested include citizens of Guatemala, Mexico, Israel and Ukraine."
Court hearings for the detainees facing criminal charges began today in makeshift courtrooms on the National Cattle Congress grounds where the men arrested Monday were taken.
Darin Swenson of KDEC in Decorah contributed to this report.