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After plant raid, town tries to rebuild

Postville, Iowa, is smack in the middle of the heartland of America. There's one four-way-stop, a water tower and a dusty main street. It's the kind of place you'd associated with apple pie, corn and football. 

But in Postville you'd be just as likely to run into a Somali woman wearing native garb, an Orthodox Jew or someone from Latin America as you would the stereotypical Midwesterner. 

Postville is home to one of the largest kosher meat-packing facilities in the world, and people from all over the world have come here to make a better future for themselves.

"People come to say, 'How can I make it better for the next generation?'" said Maryn Olson, from the community organization Postville First. "They believe the American Dream could be theirs. The American Dream is such an ideal, not just an idea."

VIDEO: Postville, Iowa, a magnet for immigrants 

Postville calls itself "Hometown to the World" and with reason.  More than 30 different are languages spoken here. And they've all come to work long hours doing grueling work to gain entry into the U.S. economy. 

"Picking our lettuce, picking our tomatoes, cleaning our houses, caring for our children these are jobs that your average American off the street would really rather not do," Olson said.

But just two years ago, the national debate on immigration came knocking on this small town's door.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the Agriprocessors Inc. meat processing plant and arrested some 380 workers for being in the United States illegally. Many of those workers have since been deported. The owners of the processing plant were charged and it eventually closed down.

"It was an economic disaster for the community," Olson said. 

Rents went unpaid, property taxes went unpaid, water bills, you name it. The town estimates it has lost $1.5 million municipally.

"We had good families here and good workers and they were doing fine," said Postville Mayor Leigh Rekow. He says illegal immigration is a government issue, and not a small town issue. But he added that since the raid, many of the town's stores have closed up shop.

Laura Castillo, 25, was one of the workers rounded up. She came to Postville from Mexico City and while she knew it was illegal she had her reasons. "My five-year-old son [in Mexico] has asthma and I needed money for his medicine and doctors," she said.

Following her arrest she spent five months in prison and now works in a local daycare center. 

Castillo was granted a work visa to remain in the United States after she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their immigration case against Agriprocessors former chief executive Sholom Rubashkin. (After prosecutors won a decisive conviction in financial fraud case against Rubashkin, they dropped all the immigration charges against him, which carry lesser penalties).     

The packing plant was sold and has reopened; and the new owner says he will only be hiring documented workers. 

The mayor is hopeful life will return to the "Hometown to the World."

"Everyone got together and said we're going to find a way out of this, and we have," Rekow said.

Castillo hopes she will soon be able to call Postville her son's hometown, too. After not seeing him for three years, the five-year-old has just received a U.S. visa and will be reunited, hopefully, with his mother this summer.