updated 5/13/2008 3:45:46 PM ET 2008-05-13T19:45:46

A raid at a northeastern Iowa meat processing plant this week was the largest in U.S. history, federal authorities said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say 390 people were arrested on immigration charges after Monday’s raid at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville. The facility is the world’s largest kosher meatpacking plant.

The raid was aimed at seeking evidence of identity theft, stolen Social Security numbers and people who are in the country illegally.

Fifty-six of those arrested have been released on humanitarian grounds; many of them have to take care of children.

Others arrested in the raid at are being held in county jails and at a converted fairgrounds.

Family members in tears
Sister Mary McCauley, a Roman Catholic nun at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, said family members of plant workers came to the nearby church in tears after immigration agents arrived in buses, vans and two helicopters.

“The people right now are hearing and seeing the helicopters,” McCauley said Monday morning. “They are just panic-stricken and very frightened and some of them are coming to the church as a safe haven.”

McCauley said she went to the plant to help provide information and assist workers but was not allowed to get close.

“Some of the people that are going to be detained are up against a fence and now they’re tying their hands,” she said.

Many of the plant workers are Hispanic, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, she said.

Toll-free number to help
Counts, the ICE spokesman, said a toll-free telephone number had been set up to assist family members of those arrested who have questions about their detention status and the removal process.

Asked about the raid during a Monday news conference, Gov. Chet Culver said both illegal immigrants and companies that knowingly hire them should be prosecuted.

"Illegal means illegal, not just those who are crossing the border illegally but those who are responsible for helping to make it happen,” Culver said. He added that it is also important to consider humanitarian concerns and had raised those issue with immigration authorities.

The governor said he’d been told last week there would be some kind of federal action.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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