DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Immigration reform advocates and religious leaders hope hundreds of people will descend on a small Iowa town this month for a rally in support of workers arrested in a large raid at a meatpacking plant.
Organizers are using the raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meatpacking plant in Postville on May 12 as an example of what's wrong with the nation's immigration laws. Federal officials have called it the largest single immigration raid in the nation's history.
The rally in Postville, population 2,200, is scheduled for July 27 and was organized by Jewish and Catholic groups from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.
"Our national immigration policies are tearing apart and hurting hardworking, taxpaying people who are just here trying to support their families," said Tom Walsh of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a Chicago-based group helping organize the rally.
More than 175 families in Postville, including more than 500 children, "just lost not only their mother or father, but in many cases, the sole breadwinner for their homes," he said.
Most of the 389 workers arrested were charged with using false identification or incorrect Social Security numbers. Two plant supervisors were later charged with aiding and abetting the possession and use of fraudulent identification.
Authorities said some undocumented workers who were sole caregivers for children were allowed to return home with ankle bracelets that monitor their movement. However, immigrant reform advocates claimed those parents aren't able to find work and must rely on handouts.
"This enforcement-only approach creates massive human suffering, separation of families and economic dislocation," Gideon Aronoff, CEO of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said earlier this month.
An spokesman for Agriprocessors -- which before the raid produced about half of the nation's kosher beef and 40 percent of its kosher chicken -- didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment.
An organization of American Orthodox Jews, Uri L'Tzedek, had called for a boycott of any businesses that sold the company's meat but backed off this month after Agriprocessors hired a former federal prosecutor as chief compliance officer.
The groups planning the immigration reform rally this month in Postville are St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, Jewish Community Action of St. Paul, Minn., and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs of Chicago. They promised testimony from people directly affected by the raid, as well as talk about immigration reform and workers' rights.
"This is a call for justice. This is a call to be faithful to our American and religious values," Sister Mary McCauley with St. Bridget's Catholic Church said in a statement. "This is a call to stand in solidarity with our Hispanic brothers and sisters."
Organizers are worried that the rally could draw too many supporters and are asking that anyone planning to attend register with their groups.
"It's so clear that the town has been devastated by the raid and they are reeling and they are trying to cope with it and trying to help the families cope with it," said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. "We want to come out with a strong support, (but) we don't want to overwhelm the community."