Agents move raid detainees out, continue investigation

DES MOINES — The pods that once held hundreds of detainees are empty. The makeshift courthouse where the people were processed is quiet.

But federal agents have not packed up, and prosecutors hint that the largest immigration raid in U.S. history may have another chapter.

‘‘The investigation is ongoing,’’ Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids, said Thursday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 389 people Monday at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, most from Guatemala and Mexico. A majority were taken to the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo to await court proceedings. Since then, a temporary courthouse on the grounds has been bustling with detainees making their initial court appearances.

That process ended Thursday morning, with most being sent to local jails pending their next hearings. Now the cells are empty again and federal agents are staying put at the detention grounds they leased through May 25.

‘‘We’re hearing lots of rumors about whether they’re going to do further follow-up action ... or whether they’re going to go into another facility,’’ said Lori Chesser, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. ‘‘There’s all kinds of rumors about that, but of course we have no idea what they’ll do.’’

Teig has acknowledged further arrests are possible but has not said whether company officials are being investigated. He noted that the raid included 697 arrest warrants, which means agents could have more work to do.

Prosecutors said 306 detainees face criminal charges, ranging from aggravated identity theft to false use of Social Security numbers. Those who only face immigration violations will get a hearing before an immigration judge and could be deported afterward.

‘‘This has been an unprecedented undertaking in nearly all respects,’’ said U.S. Attorney Matt Dummermuth. ‘‘Since May 12, ICE agents, other law enforcement partners, and attorneys and support staff from my office have worked literally around the clock to process those administratively arrested in Postville. ... To have this completed within three days is phenomenal.’’

Agriprocessors, the world’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, said Thursday it is independently investigating circumstances that led to the raid.

The company lost nearly half its work force in the raid but has resumed operations. Company spokesman Chaim Abrahams said Agriprocessors has been hiring more workers but is not at full capacity. He also said the company is improving its hiring procedures to ensure the workers are legal residents.

‘‘We have signed up for a government electronic verification program, and are working with our consultants,’’ he said.

ICE spokesman Tim Counts did not immediately return phone calls Thursday. ... l?nav=5005