CANTON, Mississippi - As 72 illegal immigrants arrested in Mississippi raids earlier this month are set to face a judge in court this week, their families are struggling to adjust to the loss of physical and financial support.
In Canton, Miss., Father Mike O’Brien and his parish at Sacred Heart Catholic Church operate as a makeshift crisis center for dozens of families with members who were swept up in the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raids at three local chicken processing plants in early August.
At least 15 of the affected families were members of O’Brien’s parish. He said not only were people in the small town’s Latino community struggling, but the raids have forced people to go about life differently.
“They were traumatized and very very upset. And very much afraid,” O’Brien explained. “People are needing assistance. We’re trying to stabilize. Help people survive.”
O’Brien, whose parish is a mix between white and Latino, said the church had taken in thousands of dollars in donations from around the country. Donations were so plentiful that clothing, diapers, soap and food filled two rooms in a building on the church’s property and made it nearly impossible for O’Brien and others to walk around freely.
Some of it has already been dispersed to families in need, but O’Brien said he fully expected the emergency crisis center to get much busier in the coming days and weeks, as funds dry up for families who had lost ways to support themselves.
“It’s going to be hard to pay rent. It’s going to be hard to pay utility bills. It’s going to be hard to buy food,” O’Brien said. “Then there’s the uncertainty of what’s going to happen.”
Mike Hurst, of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, told Fox News in a statement that the 72 illegal immigrants facing a judge this week were indicted on a range of charges, including fraudulently using a social security number to falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen.
The list of detainees includes the wife of Augusto Lopez Coronado, who said he and his wife have been living in the United States without proper immigration documents for nearly two decades. He said his wife was caught up in one of the three ICE raids that targeted the chicken processing plants she worked at in Mississippi and has been jailed in a Louisiana prison since.
“I’ve been here 19 years. I don’t have a police record or anything,” Coronado said in Spanish. “My wife has been here 15 years and she doesn’t have a record or anything. And they caught her like that. We need a work permit so we can work or something, so we aren’t in fear.”
Federal authorities have opened an investigation into the companies involved. They are looking to determine whether the companies knowingly hired workers living in the U.S. illegally. They declined to comment on whether charges would be filed.
As for Coronado, the 42-year-old father of three has been worried about what will happen next. With his wife in jail, the fear is his family will be split apart or sent back to Guatemala — a place that is foreign to his young children, who’ve only known the United States as home.
“For the moment I don’t know if my wife will be released. How will I maintain my kids,” he said. “My kids don’t want to go to Guatemala. They want to stay here.”
Back at the church, Father O’Brien said he doesn’t know exactly when the church’s assistance will end and he is willing to help for as long as his community needs him.
However, he said the church’s crisis operation probably wouldn’t be needed had lawmakers in Washington taken immigration reform seriously.
“Why can’t the political parties sit down, respectfully, and just have a good conversation about this? Leave the politics out of it,” he said. How can we solve it? How can we come up with a new program? It’s almost like they don’t want to have a good program."