Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
May 9, 2018, was an ordinary day for most Mt. Pleasant residents, but at a local cement factory, a helicopter circled overhead, and law enforcement vehicles surrounded the perimeter as ICE carried out a raid of the facility, rounding up about 45 Hispanic employees, loading them into vans, and carrying them off to various holding facilities.
All of the detainees were men, the main breadwinners for their families.
This was no longer an ordinary day for these men or for their wives and children who were suddenly stricken with fear and distress.
Iowa WINs — Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors — was formed in 2015 as a commission of First Presbyterian Church in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It became the centralized source for information and organization to help the local immigrant community deal with the aftermath of the raid. Iowa WINs organized meetings that brought helping agencies from across the state together with the detainees’ families in order to discern where the men had been taken and provide them with legal representation.
None of the detainees was subsequently charged with crimes other than the few who had previously been deported and who had unlawfully returned to the U.S. These men were deported for a second time.
The impact of ICE raids on the mental and physical health of the immigrant communities has been documented by public health researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Michigan.
“Large-scale work site immigration raids cause lasting emotional, financial, and health damage,” read a research paper. “People are left fearing future arrests, scrambling to locate loved ones, and seeking new means of survival in the absence of financial providers who have been detained, deported or barred from working while they wait for immigration hearings.”
The research concludes that these harms affect not only the immigrant workers targeted by the raids, but also children, families and friends who take on extra wage-earning and child care duties and pool resources to pay fees to attorneys and immigration courts. When dozens of workers are arrested at once, community resources are strained as many families require support at the same time.
Fear of accessing social supports such as food pantries may exacerbate the health implications of these raids.
Iowa WINs set up a food pantry at the First Presbyterian Church for the families who had lost their main source of income. The pantry continues to operate today serving 40 immigrant families impacted by the ICE raid and also by the COVID pandemic. Iowa WINs continues to seek support to keep the food pantry operating for these families.
People from the area, from the state, and from across the country contributed to the plight of these immigrant families by donating generously of food, supplies and financial funding. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Catholic Diocese of Davenport have been major partners with Iowa WINs since the raid. Iowa WINs set up accounts for each family that helped with rent, utilities, and phone expenses while the men were unable to work. Those funds were provided for the first two years.
Most of the men were released from county jails where they had been held for a month or more. However, they could not work until they had work permits which paved the way for Social Security cards and employment. In most cases, it took more than a year to receive a work permit. Some of the men still have not received work permits.
During these past three years, the Iowa WINs community and the immigrant community have built relationships and trust. There have been celebrations and get-togethers.
Immigrants organized a festive Posada at Christmastime to show appreciation for Iowa WINs support. For the third year, immigrant families are growing their own produce in the Fellowship Cup community garden plots and in home gardens with support from Iowa WINs’ Nutrimos program that is focused on community gardening, education and opportunities to support community development among these families.
By this third anniversary, most of the men impacted by the ICE raid have jobs now and can support their families. Although now the pandemic has presented new challenges, especially for the families of men who were deported — while the families have remained in Mt. Pleasant.
Those arrested vary in immigration status (as they did the day of the raid). Many are still awaiting immigration hearings three years later. The immigration system is so far behind in processing that hearings have been scheduled, delayed, rescheduled and delayed yet again.
In the meantime, these families pay taxes and contribute to the local economy by buying goods and services. Two young men who are without parents here have received their high school diplomas, have jobs and are self-sufficient.