CHICAGO - Pedro Arturo Lopez was in social studies class when the 13-year-old undocumented boy from Mexico heard the unusual thudding of a helicopter above his small Iowa town.
Moments later Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stormed the Agriprocessors Inc. meat processing plant where his mother worked up to 16-hour shifts cutting beef.
With tears running down his cheeks, Lopez said Tuesday at a Chicago immigration symposium that he was anxious and worried because he did not know what would happen to his mother.
"That day, I sometimes dream it and it's horrible," Lopez said. "It's one of those things that's gonna haunt me."
The effects of the May 12 raid in Postville, one of the largest in U.S. history, was the main topic of discussion at the symposium at DePaul University's College of Law.
Experts and activists said the negative effects of immigration raids ripple in communities across the country and pointed to recent examples in Chicago's predominantly Mexican Little Village neighborhood.
Raids are "inhumane and immoral," said Julie Santos, a Midwest spokeswoman for the League of United Latin American Citizens. "This is the impact of broken laws."
She and others vowed to re-ignite their push for comprehensive immigration reform starting Jan. 21, the day after President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.
Officials with ICE, who were not present at Tuesday's event, have long said raids are an effective way of enforcing laws and have defended their tactics, including the use of armed agents.
The Rev. Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville has worked to rebuild trust and daily life in the community of about 2,300.
Nearly 400 immigrants were arrested and charged with crimes including identity fraud at the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant. Several owners and managers have since been charged with crimes, including violating child labor laws.
"The raid did no good for anybody," Ouderkirk said, describing how the church has housed and fed hundreds since May 12.
Lopez, who immigrated illegally from Mexico with his family when he was 3, said it has been torturous waiting to know what would happen to his mother, Consuelo Vega Nava.
After her arrest officials transferred her to a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., and then later to a Florida facility before her deportation to Mexico.
Lopez, who has not seen his mother since May 12, said he will be reunited with her when he returns to Mexico next month.