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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

The Canton church has emerged as a hub of the community’s response to the raid. Its pastor, the Rev. Mike O’Brien, stood with parishioners until 4 a.m. Aug. 8 outside the Peco Foods plant in Canton, awaiting those freed from custody that night. Rev. O’Brien said he drove several people home who had hidden from federal agents inside the plant and emerged late at night.

Those arrested and released can’t work legally and their families may face one last paycheck as income dries up. Immigration court dates may not be until 2020 because of a deep backlog. Those who face court proceedings also must pay for their own lawyers or go without, and may have court dates at locations hundreds of miles away.

“What are their children going to eat?” the Rev. Jason Coker, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Mississippi, asked last week.

In answer, churches including Sacred Heart are collecting food, diapers and money. They’re helping members meet lawyers.

Maria Rodriguez is one person looking to churches for help. She said Sunday at Sacred Heart that her husband, Gumensihdo Rodriguez-Lopez, had been seized by federal agents at Peco and is now held in Natchez, Miss.

As she talked, she rocked the youngest of the couple’s five children, Azael, in his stroller. “He’s sad for his father,” she said in Spanish of the fussy toddler. “Everyone is sad.

“We really need him back because we have kids and I don’t work,” she said through a translator. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Other religious groups are helping, too.

Pastor Hugo Villegas is a missionary for the Scott County Baptist Association, overseeing a Spanish-speaking mission in Morton, where two plants were raided, as well as two in the larger neighboring town of Forest. People have been dropping off donations for the families at the Baptist association’s food pantry and clothes closet.

But Tere Villegas, the pastor’s wife, said few Hispanic families typically come to the pantry so they are spreading the word that aid is available. She added, English-speaking Baptists “have been helping out any way they can.”