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How an immigration raid changed a town

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A NO-TRAFFIC-LIGHT TOWN set in undulating dairy country, Postville was humming along in preraid times due mostly to the presence of Agriprocessors Inc. New York investor Aaron Rubashkin had purchased a shuttered Postville meatpacking plant in 1987 with plans to specialize in producing kosher chicken and beef.

By 2008 Agriprocessors, which was being run in Iowa by Mr. Rubashkin's son Sholom, was processing 60,000 chickens and buying 500 cattle a day from area livestock producers. It was the largest kosher meatpacker in the country, employing about 1,000 people.

Agriprocessors hired Jewish rabbis to kill each animal to kosher standards. Further processing was conducted by local hires, and when that pool was tapped out, the company turned to immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, Somalia, Mexico, Israel, and most notably Guatemala.

An area first settled by German and other European immigrants (Czech composer Anton Dvorak and his family spent summers in nearby Spillville) suddenly found itself teeming with people from new lands. Adjustments needed to be made, such as including more Spanish in schools and getting acquainted with Jewish customs. Lawler Street, with all its ethnic storefronts, looked like a mini United Nations in a cornfield.

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