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Churches mobilize to help families impacted by immigration raids

Free Press wire reports | 8/16/2019, 6 a.m.
The children of Sacred Heart Catholic Church streamed out into Mississippi’s blistering heat last Sunday afternoon, carrying what they said ...
A woman prays during a Spanish Mass last Sunday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Miss. Churches have been key to providing spiritual and emotional comfort to workers following immigration raids at seven Mississippi poultry plants. Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

CANTON, Miss. - The children of Sacred Heart Catholic Church streamed out into Mississippi’s blistering heat last Sunday afternoon, carrying what they said was a message of opposition against immigration raids their parents could not.

“I will not sit in silence while my parents are taken away,” read a sign carried by two Hispanic boys. They were among a group of several dozen marchers who set out on foot from the church to the town square in Canton to protest the 680 migrant arrests at seven poultry plants in Mississippi on Aug. 7.

“Imagine coming home and not finding your parents,” said Dulce Basurto-Arce, an 18-year-old community college student, describing how parents of friends were arrested. “We are marching so no other kid has to go through what we went through. Let our voices be heard!”

The student spoke from the steps of the same courthouse in Canton where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once rallied protesters against segregation in a 1966 “March Against Fear” across Mississippi.

Churches were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, as President Trump and his Republican allies continue to defend the raids, churches have emerged as the top sources of spiritual and material support to the mostly Mexican and Guatemalan workers targeted by the immigration raids.

Some churches are going beyond comfort and material aid, with their response flaring into political opposition. Mississippi’s Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran bishops denounced the raids in a joint statement Aug. 9.

The bishops said they would aid the immigrant families, saying there is “an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis.”

“We are called ... to speak the truth. And the truth is this is not right,” said Bishop Brian Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, speaking at a news conference a day after the raids.

On Sunday, Trump administration officials defended their actions amid emotional pleas from children to let their parents go.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan acknowledged that one video of an 11-year-old sobbing was “emotional,” but said the girl was quickly reunited with her mother.

“I understand that the girl is upset. And I get that,” Mr. Morgan said on CNN. “But her father committed a crime.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan acknowledged that the timing of the raids was “unfortunate,” coming hours before President Trump visited El Paso, Texas, where a man who told authorities he was targeting Mexicans killed 22 people on Aug. 3. But Mr. McAleenan told NBC the operation had been planned for more than a year.

Hours after the officials’ televised appearances on Sunday, more than 250 people filled Sacred Heart to overflowing. A few were white people there to show support, but most were Hispanic congregants who normally attend the weekly Spanish-language Mass. Deacon Cesar Sanchez, who is originally from Mexico’s Michoacan state and is studying to be a priest in the Jackson, Miss., diocese, gave a homily in Spanish in which he spoke of Jesus also being an immigrant and a refugee. He said the church is a pilgrim church and that “God is with his people.”