Mississippi Churches Offer Help After Immigration Raids

immigration raids
The English speaking Sunday School children, right, sing several songs as they welcome the attendees of the Spanish mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Miss., Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. Churches have been key to providing spiritual and emotional comfort to workers following immigration raids at seven Mississippi poultry plants, including one in Canton, and are now stepping up to provide material aid to jailed or out-of-work church members, even as some church leaders denounce the raids that Republican leaders of the conservative state have applauded. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Following last week’s immigration raids on seven food-processing plants in Mississippi, congregations and religious organizations are providing food, shelter, and legal assistance for people in need.

On August 7, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted one of the largest immigration raids in more than a decade, arresting 680 people. Because the raid occurred on the first day of school, many students returned home parentless. By the next morning, almost half of the detainees had been released—some because ICE is out of space and some because of humanitarian reasons. According to ICE officials, humanitarian factors include having small children at home, being pregnant, or having serious health problems.

While clergy members and civil rights activists spoke out against the raid, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant praised the arrests, saying illegal immigrants must “bear the responsibility of that federal violation.”

Churches Rally to Meet Immediate Needs After Immigration Raids

In Canton, Mississippi, the Rev. Michael O’Brien of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church waited outside one food plant until 4 a.m. Thursday. He comforted people whose family members were detained and gave rides home to employees who’d hidden inside the building. “The people are all afraid,” O’Brien says. “Their doors are locked, and they won’t answer.”

Sacred Heart is “running a Crisis Center in our Parish Hall,” according to the church’s website. Lawyers, counselors, and social workers are available to meet with impacted families, and the congregation is collecting food donations, hygiene items, and school supplies.

“We have confirmed that all our children have at least one parent in their home, so they are safe,” the church notes. “But these children are sad, traumatized, and scared.” Sacred Heart is planning a temporary daycare ministry, providing meals, and collecting emergency funds for rent and household expenses. “Parents no longer have jobs, and with this sudden loss of income families are facing a frightening and uncertain future,” the website says.

The Scott County Baptist Association launched a GoFundMe page for the local crisis center, aiming “to provide food, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other emergency necessities to families in need.” 

Pastor Hugo Villegas, a missionary for that association, leads three Spanish-speaking missions in the area. Although people are dropping off food and clothing, few Hispanics tend to make use of the association’s panty, so the pastor’s wife, Tere, is trying to spread the word about all the available help. 

In the town of Forest, Trinity Missionary Church also has opened its doors as a collection center for affected residents. “Community has been great,” says volunteer Michael Bermudez. “There’s been food and donations coming [from] around the United States.” 

Catholic Charities in the diocese of Jackson, the state capital, is seeking volunteers to process, store, and deliver donations. The group promises that 100 percent of donations will go toward supporting families dealing with unemployment as a result of last week’s raids. Its Migrant Support Center offers legal assistance and community outreach such as informing immigrants about their rights. 

Clergy Release Joint Statement Opposing Immigration Raids 

“Some churches are going beyond comfort and material aid, with their response flaring into political opposition,” notes an Associated Press article. Last Friday, local Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, and Evangelical Lutheran bishops released a joint statement condemning the immigration raids, saying they cause “unacceptable suffering” and create “a climate of fear.”

The religious leaders urged Christians of all denominations to “stand in solidarity to provide solace, material assistance, and strength for the separated and traumatized children, parents, and families.” The leaders add they’re “committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation’s immigration system.”

Catholic Bishop Joseph Kopacz calls the raids “a man-made disaster,” saying detainees “are our neighbors” and “hardworking people.” He adds, “They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.