By Lana Turnbull
When Federal agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided several chicken processing plants in Mississippi this past August, rounding up around 680 immigrants who were believed to have been working without legal documentation, something incredible, and I might add, very American, happened. As the reality sunk in that hundreds of children, who were attending their first day of school, could potentially return home at the end of their school day to an empty house with no parents to care for them, that is when the Central Mississippi communities affected by these raids stepped into action.
Beginning with the school districts in the area, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers and other staff members started making arrangements to see that no child was left without someone to care for them when school let out at the end of the day. As the word spread about the surprise raid, local churches and other civic organizations began helping to organize make-shift shelters where children could be cared for while arrangements could be made for relatives and friends to care for those whose parents had been taken into custody.
Besides caring for displaced children, these communities came together and have continued to provide help for families in need, who have lost a primary breadwinner and in some cases both parents or guardians, who were caught up in the raids. The needs are great. They include help with meals, legal assistance, psychological counseling, childcare and other services. Affected families need help to pay for rent and utilities and to keep their phone bills paid so they can be contacted by lawyers working on their cases.
The overwhelming human kindness shown by people in these Mississippi communities, who saw a desperate situation and came to the aid of their neighbors, transcends the debate about immigration policy. It transcends politics and race. They saw their immigrant brothers and sisters, as members of their community who needed help and whose families needed help, not as criminals trying to take something that wasn’t theirs. It is a very American response. It speaks volumes about the good and generous hearts of those who stepped up to help their fellow men, women and children. It also speaks volumes about the immigrants caught up in the cruel hypocrisies of our broken immigration system – people who came to this country to make a better life for their families, who work hard and want to be productive members of their communities.
I’m not surprised about the kindness and care that was shown, and is still being shown to immigrant families affected, some of whom still have fathers or mothers detained while their legal cases are moving forward. But, I am so proud that the rest of the country got to see how Mississippians respond when their neighbors need them, as their communities were thrust into the national spotlight. It reminds me that there is good everywhere, and there are good people doing God’s work everyday. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a crisis or a disaster before anybody notices.