ICE raid: As spotlight fades, immigrant families struggle amid dwindling resources

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Those detained in August aren’t able to work. “So you’re living in this limbo where you can’t do anything, and that’s even when you’ve been released,” said Amelia McGowan, senior attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Mississippi groups continue efforts to provide support for rent, utilities, legal aid, and other needs for families affected by the August immigration raids. Leaders of those efforts, though, are concerned that resources may soon run out.

“You have this situation where families are separated, children were left at school alone, and hundreds and thousands of people in Mississippi who have lived here for many years were put into immediate crisis,” said interim executive director of Mississippi ACLU Joshua Tom. 

On Aug. 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 680 poultry workers across Mississippi in the largest immigration workforce raid in the U.S. As of Nov. 8, 119 of the detainees have been prosecuted, 47 of whom submitted guilty pleas. The indictments range from misusing citizens’ social security numbers, fraudulently claiming citizenship and falsifying immigration documents to reentering the U.S. after being deported or removed.

The ACLU is partnering with Catholic Charities of Jackson, as well as groups around the country, to raise money for housing and medical costs. According to the Mississippi Immigration Coalition’s fund website, nearly $300,000 has been sent to over 200 families so far. The money is being distributed through churches in Laurel, Carthage, Canton, Morton and Forest.

On the legal side, the Mississippi Center for Justice is also partnering with national and regional organizations — including El Pueblo, ACLU, Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, and Mississippi Immigration Rights Alliance — to pair the poultry workers arrested in August with lawyers.

So far we’ve got attorneys for everybody who’s been released who has a court date,” said Amelia McGowan, a senior attorney with the center. She added there is still “a tremendous need for attorneys” as more individuals will soon receive court dates, and that her group is planning training sessions in January and February for lawyers interested in helping. 

Those detained in August aren’t able to work, and it may take years for those detained to receive court dates and for the removal process to play out, McGowan added.

“All of this is compounding while you’re just waiting for a court date, which may not come in a year, which may not come in two years,” she said. “So you’re living in this limbo where you can’t do anything, and that’s even when you’ve been released.”

The Mississippi Center for Justice is also hosting legal clinics in affected areas to explain court procedures.

In the meantime, Tom is worried about humanitarian funds soon running out. He projects the roughly $120,000 remaining will be spent in the next couple of months.

“What we’re facing here is: Families are soon going to have to make some really tough decisions because they don’t have enough money to pay for their housing, their heat, their water, etc.,” he said. He added that it’s a challenge to keep the issue on people’s radar. “A lot of times when you have events like this, it’s like a flash in the pan, and then people move on, life goes on.”