More coverage on the Postville raid, and other immigration stories.
Guatemala: "In the Shadow of The Raid"
Reported by Jennifer Szymaszek
And Greg Brosnan
Here in the highlands of Guatemala, the beauty of the countryside is deceptive.
Life in these villages is a struggle. Abject poverty drives most of the younger men and women to travel to the United States illegally in search of work. But many return empty-handed.
At this back entrance to the Guatemala City airport, nearly every day, families come from all over the country to wait for relatives who have just been deported by US immigration officials.
In the past year alone, some 30,000 deportees from the United States stepped through this gate -- most of them, penniless and in debt.
William Toj was one of these returning deportees.
Subtitle: You're home now, son.
He and many others from his village of El Rosario had been caught by immigration officials at a meatpacking plant in the American heartland.
Willian had only been gone two months. He was arrested on the first day he began working illegally at the plant.
The friends and family who turned out to console him knew their own sons and daughters were not far behind.
Soundbite Willian Toj: [subtitle] Twenty minutes after the raid, everyone here knew we'd been caught. They say people here cried as much as in Postville.
William returned to his parents' house.
Soundbite Angela Toj: [subtitle] I have cancer, that's why they left. Now I need another operation. We need money, they have to remove this.
Soundbite Willian Toj: [subtitle] It was all for nothing. I just got my family more in debt.
Williian was 30 years old with four children when he made the trip to the United States... But then came the raid.
It was May 12, 2008, when federal agents stormed the Agriprocessors' plant, the country's largest kosher meatpacker.
The raid in Postville, Iowa would become the biggest in U.S. history. Nearly 400 workers were arrested.
The government charged Agriprocessors and its manager Sholom Rubashkin with harboring undocumented aliens, employing children, and workplace health and safety violations.
Most of the men were charged with document fraud and sentenced to five months in prison followed by deportation.
The women who were sole caregivers of children were fitted with electronic tags and allowed to stay in Postville pending trial. They were banned from working.
SOUNDBITE GUATEMALAN WOMAN UNDER HOUSE ARREST IN POSTVILLE ROSARIO TOJ [SUBTITLE] – I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT WAS THEY JUST SAID LIFT UP YOUR TROUSERS AND THEY PUT IT ON ME.
The raid had taken a fifth of the town's population... For a time, it wouid put Postville at the center of the U.S. immigration debate.
Before the raid, Postville, Iowa, was a cultural curiosity -- a bustling melting pot in the middle of the Iowa plains.
At first glance, it doesn't look too different from any other small town in the rural Midwest. But over the years, hundreds of mostly undocumented Guatemalans and Mexicans settled here with their families, drawn by jobs at Agriprocessors. The plant was the nation's largest producer of kosher beef and chicken ... founded in the 1980s by Hasidic jews from Brooklyn.
The hundreds of undocumented workers were a vital part of the local economy. They said they had risked everything to work here for $7 an hour.
Most of those arrested in Postville came from just two villages, El Rosario and San Jose Calderas. An economic lifeline from Postville once ran to nearly every home here.
Willian Toj was just one of many here who said his hopes had been dashed.
Willian Toj; [subtitle] A part of me is happy. I'm with my wife, my parents, my children. I have my family. But then I start thinking about my debt.
To make the trip north, William had borrowed $7,000, much of it from a local moneylender who took his parents' home as collateral. He had to at least make the interest payments, or his family would be on the street.
But there is no industry here, no steady jobs. Most families live off rented plots of land, growing just enough corn and beans to eat. Day labor is scarce and pays next to nothing.
Soundbite: Willian Toj: "You earn just six dollars a day here working from seven until four. It's not even enough to pay the interest on my loan."
We went to the homes of some of the town's most vulnerable. Alejandra Zamora suffers from Alzheimers.
We had met her daughter in Postville.
But Rosita was one of the women placed under house arrest after the raid… and she can no longer send money back to her mother.
Rosita told us she feels helpless.
Soundbite Rosita Zamora: [subtitle] She's losing her mind. She wanders off and gets lost. She's not right in the head. She's relying on me to send her money, but I'm not working.
About 40 women faced months or even years in legal limbo here in Postville.
They've been allowed to stay in the country temporarily to pursue claims of forced labor and abuse... and to testify against Agriprocessor's management.
But their petition for full legal status remains uncertain.
It's December in Iowa. Seven months have passed since the raid.
With no decision yet on their cases, the women under house arrest say they are still living off of handouts.
NOW, HOWEVER, WITH THE MEAT PLANT BANKRUPT, IT ISN'T JUST GUATEMALANS WHO HAVE TO LINE UP FOR DONATIONS FROM THE LOCAL FOOD BANK.
SOUNDBITE CHRIS ELLEFSON: WHEN THE PLANT GOT SHUT DOWN THE WHOLE ECONOMY JUST WENT DOWNHILL, IT'S TOUGH FOR EVERYBODY AROUND HERE.
SOUNDBITE, CARA, VOLUNTEER AT FOOD BANK: WE HAD 30, 35, 40 PEOPLE BEFORE THE RAID IS ALL THAT CAME THROUGH AND WE HAVE HAD AS HIGH AS 165 IN ONE AFTERNOON.
While the rest of the country had slipped into recession... Postville was grinding to a complete halt.
Soundbite Hardware store owner John: Our sales in some areas have dropped 40 percent or more.
YOU TAKE A BIG CITY AND TAKE 400 JOBS OUT THEY GOT OTHER PLACES THEY CAN RECOUP. YOU TAKE 400 PLUS JOBS OUT OF A TOWN OF 2000 PEOPLE, IT HURTS.
THIS KOSHER SUPERMARKET WAS ONCE THE PRIDE OF POSTVILLE'S JEWISH COMMUNITY. IT THRIVED WHILE AGRIPROCESSOR'S WAS AT FULL CAPACITY.
NOW THAT THE PLANT WAS BARELY RUNNING, THE DELI'S CUSTOMERS ARE OUT OF WORK, AND ITS SHELVES ARE HALF EMPTY.
MANAGER MORDY BROWN HAS NOT BEEN PAID IN WEEKS.
SOUNDBITE MORDY BROWN, STANDING BY FRIDGE. EVERY SINGLE PERSON ALMOST IN THE TOWN ALMOST WITHOUT EXCEPTION IS REALLY FINDING THEMSELVES HAVING TO CUT BACK, NOT JUST A LITTLE, JUST YOU KNOW, REALLY WORRY WHERE THE NEXT DOLLAR'S COMING FROM.
THAT INCLUDES MORDY'S WIFE LEAH.
SOUNDBITE: LEAH BROWN: THE SADDEST PART FOR ME IS WATCHING PEOPLE LEAVE POSTVILLE AND PEOPLE WHO DON'T WANT TO LEAVE POSTVILLE, AND WHO HAVE BEEN FORCED TO LEAVE, EITHER BECAUSE THEY ARE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS OR BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T HIRED BACK AND THERE'S NO EMPLOYMENT FOR THEM...
GUATEMALAN JOSE MARTINEZ HAD WORKED AT THE PLANT FOR NEARLY FOUR YEARS. HE WAS ON THE NIGHT SHIFT THE DAY OF THE RAID AND WASN'T CAUGHT. BUT HE SAID THERE WAS NOTHING HERE FOR HIM NOW.
SOUNDBITE JOSE MARTINEZ [SUBTITLE] LIKE THE OLD SONG SAYS, MY DEAR VILLAGE IS THE BEST PLACE FOR ME NOW.
EVERYDAY SOMEONE SEEMED TO BE LEAVING.
SOUNDBITE MEXICAN TRAILER PARK DWELLER OLIVIA VEGA [SUBTITLE]: THEY CALL THIS PLACE THE GHOST TOWN NOW, EVERYONE'S GONE.
SOT: WHEN AGRIPROCESSORS STOPPED, EVERYTHING STOPPED.
BACK IN GUATEMALA THE VILLAGE BUSTLED WITH LIFE. THERE WERE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE NOW. BUT MOST OF THE SPECTATORS HERE AND MANY OF THE PLAYERS ARE DEPORTEES FROM POSTVILLE WHO HAD SERVED MONTHS IN JAIL. NOW THEY WERE BACK... BUT UNEMPLOYED AND IN DEBT.
THE SUNDAY SOCCER GAME, THEY SAY, IS ONLY A BRIEF ESCAPE FROM THEIR TROUBLES.
TODAY WE CAN FORGET ABOUT ALL THAT WE HAVE BEEN THROUGH. BUT TOMORROW IS MONDAY AND WE KNOW THERE IS NO WORK. WE GET SAD AGAIN.
For Willian Toq, it seems, life has been reduced to a single function: servicing a debt that threatens to consume his family.
Unless he raises 180 dollars by the fifteenth of every month, the moneylender will take his family's home.
In Postville, it would have taken him three days to earn this money -- here it takes all month.
Soundbite Willian Toj [subtitle]: There isn't a moment of peace. Sometimes there's no work and you know that date is coming up.
Meanwhile his mother's cancer is spreading...
Soundbite Angela Toj [subtitle]: It's hard enough just having enough food. There's no money for tests.
Soundbite Willian Toj [subtitle]: All I can do is listen to her, suffer with her, and be there for her (at the end.
By pulling together, they manage to feed themselves make the monthly payments to the moneylenders' account.
Soundbite Willian Toj [subtitle]: I know all I'll bring back is a receipt, proof that I've paid. You come back empty-handed and depressed.
Williiam says his only real hope of paying off his debt is by returning to the US at the risk of getting caught again... but this would mean leaving his family.
If he stays, he knows there are few jobs without more skills, so he is teaching himself to read and write.
Meanwhile the people of El Rosario are hoping for cha.
Soundbite Willian's father Jacinto Toj [subtitle]: We failed. If my sons had stayed just one more year, they would have done what they needed to do. Let's hope this stops, that one day things change and that this new president gives people a chance.
So far, the Obama administration has been reluctant to carry out big workplace raids... pointing to the economic impact and the damage to immigrant families.
Meanwhile, back in Postville, the town continued to struggle in the aftermath of the raid…
Temporary workers brought in to Agriprocessors didn't work out.
SOT News: The new owner of Postville's troubled meatpacking plant reveals another big step on the road to recovery.
A new owner recently renamed the plant and reopened the meat line... but, so far, below capacity.
Late last year, the former head of the plant was convicted of fraud in federal court, and now faces a state trial for labor abuses.
Last December, women like Rosita finally had their ankle tags removed. Some have won visas, but most are still in legal limbo.
And, back in El Rosario, some have begun to risk return to the U.S. but not William.
Soundbite in off, Willian Toj: "When you hear someone has gone to the US you're happy for him, you say "He made it!" because you don't know how much they've suffered. Then you go yourself and you find out." "But the American dream is no game. It can ruin your life."