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Morton Church, Community, Cope with Immigration Raid Fallout

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Morton Church, Community, Cope with Immigration Raid Fallout
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Undocumented Immigrants in Line for Assistance, Morton
Desare Frazier

Mississippi communities are pooling resources to help undocumented immigrants cope with the fallout from the ICE raids earlier this year. MPB's Desare Frazier visits one community to see how they're managing relief efforts.

About 20 children are playing with legos and coloring while their parents wait to see a caseworker in a large meeting hall at Morton United Methodist Church in Scott County.

"Just go ahead and have a seat, and they'll pull your file for you" said volunteer

Every other Monday undocumented immigrants come here to have their rent and utilities paid.

"Treinta y dos. Numero treinta y dos. We're only on number 32," said Volunteer.

There are several hundred undocumented immigrants in this community who need assistance after the August 7, raid of seven poultry plants in Mississippi. More than 600 Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents arrested nearly 700 people--the largest raid in U.S. history. More than 300 were released then fired from their jobs.

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"Pues, tristes...solos," said Namie.
"Sad, alone" said Espinoza

Forty-two year old Namie a native of Mexico feels sad and lonely. She came to Mississippi 11 years ago. Namie says both she and her husband worked at the Koch plant but on different shifts. He was arrested for using a fake I.D. Namie wasn't there at the time but was fired. She cries about their 5-year old son who she says is an American citizen. Luis Espinoza with Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance translates.

"Romero, Romero," said Namie.
"Romero, Romero the kid, he suffered too much and even he don't want to eat. He still very said everyday, asking for the father," said Espinoza.

Namie says she has two other children in Mexico who depended on the money she sent them. She says she left because of the poverty.

"Mataron a mis esposo, alla...mi primer esposo," said Namie.
Her case is really difficult because the first husband has been killed because of violence up there. That's why she decided to come here so she should send my to her other sons," said Espinoza.

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Youth and Children's Ministry leader Jamie Beatty says with the help of other churches they operate a food pantry. She says they've provided food for nearly 500 children in more than 200 families. Beatty says they've paid bills for about 100 people.

"These are real people. I am sitting here looking out at a room of over 50 people who have been deeply impacted. Their lives have been changed not just temporarily, but forever," said Beatty.

Luis Espinoza with MIRA says most of the undocumented immigrants have loved ones who remain in federal custody like Namie's husband who is housed in Louisiana. Others here are out on bond. Everyone detained must appear before a federal and an immigration judge for hearings. Espinoza says many don't have a court date for an immigration hearing, which could take months.

"At the same time they feel like they've been treated like criminals. At the same time, they have the hope they can stay here because they have kids born here," said Espinoza.

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Loralee, a native of Mexico, has been in Mississippi seven years. She met her husband who's from Guatemala in Morton. They both worked at the PH Food Processing Plant here. Her husband was arrested. She worked a different shift and was fired. The couple have two children 3 and 6, both American citizens. Loralee isn't looking forward to the holidays. Luis Espinoza translates.

"Ellos quieren que su papa regrese," said Loralee.

"She feels very bad especially this time of the year because it's Thanksgiving and then Christmas and the kids they think their father is coming with gifts," said Loralee.

Dorothy Balser of Catholic Charities says they received more than $500,000 from a Mississippi immigration coalition and other private donors for relief efforts. She says she distributes funds to five churches in communities near the raided poultry plants to assist families. But, how long can this continue? She expects the funds to dwindle by January.

"That's a question I'm starting to here from the faith leaders as well. How can we continue to help. They're starting to worry. We're looking at that question now. We really don't know how to prepare families for the future," said Balser.

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But while ministries focus on the human toll of the raids on families, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst in the Southern District of Mississippi, is focused on the crimes committed. He says they've indicted 119 undocumented immigrants for crimes that range from identity theft and falsifying documents to returning to the U.S. multiple times illegally. Hurst says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found the identities of more than 400 Americans were stolen.

"This has direct adverse impacts on American citizens in the form of when you're identify is stolen you can't get credit, you can't get a loan, you can't get health insurance, you can't get Social Security benefits.

So far no employers have been charged as a result of the raids. Hurst says they are investigating the poultry plant owners. But it takes time.

"The United States Attorney's Office has prosecuted many employers, many owners, many companies for specifically immigration, criminal immigration violations and those cases have many times taken months or years to bring to fruition," said Hurst.

In the meantime, churches like this one in Morton says they'll work to help families left in limbo by the raids as long as they can.