Communities scramble to help after Mississippi immigration raids

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Family members and friends of those who were detained during Wednesday’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid wait outside of Koch Foods Inc., plant in hopes of their loved ones returning to the plant in Morton, Miss., Thursday, August 8, 2019.

Haga clic aquí para leer este artículo en español.

A day after hundreds of people were detained at various food processing plants in central Mississippi, local organizations, churches and community members are working to develop relief plans for those affected, but concrete plans are not yet set.

On Wednesday, more than 650 agents from Homeland Security Investigations executed administrative and federal criminal search warrants for immigration violations in Morton, Carthage, Canton, Pelahatchie, Walnut Grove and Bay Springs. Many people were released Thursday morning, but nearly 400 remain in custody.

Julio Del Castillo is president of the Latin American Betterment Association (LABALink), and on Thursday morning told Mississippi Today people are working to establish help centers for food banks, donations and more but this work is not yet complete.

“Right now the most important thing to do, the most efficient way to help this community will be to provide food and basic items, to provide some way for them to pay their bills,” he said.

Joanna King, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, also said that financial donations are the best way to assist affected families.

“We are working to create a fund people can contribute to through the diocese website,” King said. She added the website should be updated either tonight or tomorrow morning with a way to donate specifically to this cause.

“Financial concern for the families is the main thing because these people were working. It being the beginning of the month, many of the bills had already been paid but by the end of the month things are going to be very different.”

King said that the phone had been ringing nonstop with inquiries about the recent ICE raid. “It’s like disaster relief, really.”

The diocese is also working to coordinate and expand a full legal response team for migrant aid. Aside from lending material support, King said that many parishes are just trying to provide comfort for affected families.

“The staff at some of the different parishes are just working to ease the sadness in some of the communities and help people know they’re loved,” she said.

One of those parishes – Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton – is hosting an event on Sunday after the 11:30 a.m. Spanish mass for the children of people who were detained.

“It’s an event to let the kids know that they’re loved and people are praying for them and to help lift their spirits,” King said.

The Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services is not taking donations currently, but stated in a release that anyone aware of a child who’s been left alone or otherwise affected by the ICE raids can call 1-800-222-8000.

“We are getting lots of calls to offer help and donations, (but) right now we’re not accepting anything because we have not had any children referred,” said Lea Anne Brandon, communications director of Child Protection Services.

For school districts, assessing how many students were impacted and how to help can prove difficult.

“It’s different than when a tornado comes through and you can see what the immediate needs are,” said Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee. “In this case people tend to withdraw.”

No formal food or clothing drive has been organized as the district is first trying to assess what the needs are, McGee said.

“As far as I know all children were placed in a safe home last night. We’re sending some folks out today to homes to knock on doors and make sure kids are safe and let them know school is a safe place,” McGee said.

West Jasper School District superintendent Warren Woodrow told Mississippi Today “no children affected here that we have heard about.” The Rankin County School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the Jackson Public School District said it was committed to educating children regardless of a student’s immigration status or country of origin.

“We are working closely with the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) and community partners to provide resources and supports to ensure all of our families and students feel safe in their school communities,” the district said.

The district directed those in need of information, assistance and counsel related to immigration to contact MIRA at 601-968-5182. MIRA also created a gofundme to help with legal funds for those affected.

The ACLU of Mississippi, along with local organizations, created a hotline for those affected by the detainments to call — 978-993-3300.

Kelsey Davis and Larrison Campbell contributed to this report.