After ICE raids in Mississippi, Catholic Charities prepares for long-term impact

Friends, coworkers and family watch as U.S. immigration officials raid the Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)Friends, coworkers and family watch as U.S. immigration officials raid the Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Likening the use of about 600 federal agents in an immigration raid carried out Wednesday in seven Mississippi chicken processing plants to an “invasion,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz, who heads the Diocese of Jackson, said some of the families affected by the action appear “traumatized.” And though about 300 of the roughly 680 people who were arrested were released on Thursday, Aug. 8, the bishop said the effects of the raids will only intensify in the coming weeks.

“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hard-working people.” He said he was bewildered that authorities would choose to carry out the operation as these Mississippi communities began the first day of school.

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The bishop, who also heads the local Catholic Charities agency, said that families who have lost jobs or breadwinners will face increasing financial hardships in the near term, as bills come due and refrigerators go empty. The diocese plans to work with parishes in the affected communities, home to large Guatemalan and Mexican populations, to get a sense of the need on the ground.

“It really took everyone by surprise, the extent of this,” the bishop said.

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Bishop Kopacz said the diocese will collect donations over the coming days and then work with local parishes to distribute funds as families face difficulty paying rent or buying groceries. He is also working on a statement with other local Catholic leaders and the heads of the Episcopal and Methodist churches.

“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals.”

The near-term hardship “won’t hit for a week or two,” Bishop Kopacz said. But “as time goes on this month, there’s going to be some real crises.”

The raids occurred at facilities owned and operated by Illinois-based Koch Foods, one of the largest poultry producers in the United States, with operations in Mississippi and five other states. The company did not respond to telephone calls and emails seeking comment on the ICE raids or their impact.

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Chicken plants dominate the economies of Morton and other small towns east of Jackson. Mississippi is the nation’s fifth-largest producer of chicken products, and the plants’ tough processing jobs have mainly been filled by Latino immigrants eager to take whatever work they can get.

“There’s not a waiting list for these jobs,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are contributing to the economy and to their families.”

Perry Perkins, the Mississippi supervisor for the Industrial Areas Foundation, said the response to the workers’ and parents’ plight thus far has been chaotic, with “all kinds of groups” providing legal support and counseling for parents and children. “Folks have been released with court dates, but now they don’t have jobs,” he said. “It’s a mess.”

Chevon Chatman, who heads up Working Together Jackson, a network of community groups including Mississippi parishes, said service agencies are “still figuring things out.”

“The needs were different yesterday,” she said.

“The kids who were left behind on their first day of school came back to no one,” she said. “There have been some reunifications, but it’s still a work in progress. There are a significant number of children who have not been united with their parents.”

Ms. Chatman said that many companies in Mississippi count on immigrant labor, adding there may be ways to build an agreement to prevent future raids on that need.

“In my work, I see how [immigrants] want to make better lives for themselves and the people around them,” she said, adding, “prayers are welcome. That’s always.”

Patricia Ice, a lawyer with the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, said immigrant community members are “afraid to go out of the house.”

“We would like for the raids and detentions to stop, and we need Congress to work on a path to permanent residence and citizenship,” she said. “These are people who are working and contributing to our society. They are our neighbors. They go to church with us. They are people in our community that we love and cherish.”

Ms. Ice noted in particular her clients who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration policy that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as minors from deportation. Some work in technical support, others serve as nurses, and one is studying to be a veterinarian. Immigrants are an asset to Mississippi’s struggling economy, she said.

“We don’t need to run them away,” Ms. Ice said. “Mississippi needs workers.”

Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, told The Associated Press on Aug. 7 in Pearl, Miss., just down the road from a Koch processing plant, that the raids could be the largest-ever workplace operation in any single state. The companies involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the United States illegally and they will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, Mr. Albence said.

The raids were carried out on the same day that President Trump visited El Paso, Tex., where a gunman, who appears to have targeted Hispanic people, killed at 22 people over the weekend. At least one Catholic bishop found the timing to be especially insensitive.

“While the nation is still in mourning, especially the vulnerable immigrant population, ICE separates more families with massive raid,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., posted on Twitter, adding, “the cruelty must stop!”

Chicago-based Catholic Extension announced on Aug. 8 that it would also send aid and begin a fundraising effort to assist families affected by the ICE raids through its “Holy Family Fund.”

The Rev. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said in a statement on Aug. 8 that separated families, like the ones in Mississippi, are “the human toll of our broken immigration system; suffering amid our nation’s inability to find a common-sense legislative solution to this pressing issue.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Denise Delurgio
1 week 4 days ago

Here we go again. Opinions from any Catholic person or organization who stands to make money off of illegal immigration has really gotten old. Our nation, as all others, has laws regulating immigration already on the books. People who break and enter, then work illegally, often stealing the identities of citizens, know full well that they can be deported. People who break laws are always separated from their children. The 'breaking up families' condemnation is ridiculous. When the parent(s) are in jail the children can be cared for by relatives or our foster system. If the parent(s) are deported take the whole family back home and raise your own children. The risk or arrest and/or deportation must be worth it to the millions who come here to work.

FRAN ABBOTT
1 week 4 days ago

Children who are separated from their parents suffer lasting trauma from the experience. Relatives or the foster system are absolutely no substitutes for a mother or father. This is my opinion, based in fact, and I certainly do not stand to make any money off it. Yes, the possibility of arrest and deportation is worth it to many of our brothers and sisters because the alternative, staying in their home country, is so much worse. God help all of them and open the hearts of those who cannot love them

John B
1 week 3 days ago

Indeed, our nation has laws. The billionaire who owns the factory also broke our laws, but he wasn't arrested. Do you think he should be separated from his family? Why don't you complain about him breaking our laws? What's getting old is casual cruelty directed at vulnerable people while powerful people get a pass.

You have no evidence that any of these people stole anyone's identity. In fact, you have enjoyed the low prices for agricultural products that these workers have made possible for you. So there is plenty of blame to share, if you want to point fingers.

Charles Erlinger
1 week 3 days ago

I second the prayer expressed in Fran Abbott's closing sentence, and hope that the federal employees whose duty it is to perform these acts will be treated with sympathy by their grandchildren.

Jeffrey More
1 week 3 days ago

How come Bishop Kopacz can describe a lawfully conducted exercise of police powers by officials charged with (and sworn to uphold) this nation’s immigration laws as an “invasion”, while President Trump gets crucified for using the same word to describe swarms of people storming across our border illegally?

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 3 days ago

Yes. They're swarming over here to pick our berries and fix our roofs and cut up our chickens all on the cheap. The gall. BTW, not a relation to the Bishop though he used to be a pastor in my area.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 3 days ago

Deleted

Jeffrey More
1 week 3 days ago

I thought we were a nation of laws. How many laws in addition to the immigration laws are you willing to see unenforced in exchange for a bowl of berries or a couple of plucked chickens?

Sheila Kelly
1 week 3 days ago

I thought we were Catholic Christians called by Jesus to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and comfort the afflicted. Jesus came to show that love is greater than any law, especially since the only people arrested weren't the only people breaking the law. Where were the arrests of the owners of those plants? The employers are also breaking the law, but not one of them was arrested.

John B
1 week 3 days ago

If we're a nation of laws, why wasn't the factory owner not arrested, and why aren't you complaining about that? How much are you going to pay back for all the cheap food you've enjoyed? Nothing, I bet. Seems like the sanctity of our laws all depends on who's breaking them.

John B
1 week 3 days ago

"Crucified" is a pretty rank choice of words here. Trump will be just fine. The difference is that Trump uses the word "invasion" to stoke fear of powerless people, while the bishop used the word to describe an attack by powerful people. Trump punches down, like a coward. The bishop was punching up, which takes guts in these times when powerful people get their feelings hurt easily and retaliate without hesitation.

Jeffrey More
1 week 3 days ago

Nonsense! The bishop was, in effect, endorsing lawlessness, and (in actuality) denigrating and defaming law enforcement personnel for doing their jobs.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 2 days ago

You missed my point. It's not that I want them here for cheaper raspberries. It is that they are much more likely to work than to be the criminal hordes that the racism-stoking rhetoric of the Orange Demagogue of the Contorted Face suggests. Americans are selective about what laws THEY respect. Remember Prohibition. And have you ever driven the speed limit on an interstate and been passed by everyone. I go 5mph over the limit for my safety to compromise with the lawless American public.

Jeffrey More
1 week 2 days ago

I’m not sure you see your own point. You seem In the third sentence of your comment to be implying that if only the people who enter our country illegally do so with the intention of working rather than committing crimes, our immigration laws should be waived. Then, after a gratuitous (and irrelevant) attack on President Trump, you seem to seek to bolster your argument by implying that because some Americans sometimes violate other laws, we can’t insist on strict compliance with our immigration laws. Have I caught your drift?

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 2 days ago

Adherence to laws and prosecution of their infringements is always selective. When this selection reflects racial prejudice, then it is only an exercise in racism. Brown people coming over the border don't scare me. Demagogues who appeal to base fear and racism do.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 2 days ago

Stanley
I agree to limited extent: adherence to laws and prosecution of their infringement is “frequently” but certainly NOT always “selective”. Note however that if a law is always ignored and unenforced it simply ceases to be in fact a law! Applied to the subject of immigration it effectively would be a decree of “Open Borders” and the current wave of Central American illegal Immigrants would become a sea of such immigrants from all over the world. There is always a price to be paid for “selective enforcement”. That price may be great or it might be small but it is certainly proportional to the extent that a law is noted to be or declared as not enforced.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week ago

No reasonable immigration policy can be reached while we have a president demagogue stirring up white hysteria. Grandstanding raids are for political gain and make the law a mockery as much as non enforcement. My original point was that the "hordes" crossing our border are not nearly as scary a threat as the demagogue wants us to think.

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