A Welcoming Church

Mississippi congregation reaches out after devastating immigration raid

By Sue Weishar, Ph.D.

On August 25, 2008, the small town of Laurel, Mississippi was the site of the largest single workplace site raid in U.S. history. Early that morning hundreds of Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) agents swooped down on the Howard Industries plant in Laurel, which produces electric transformers, and began rounding up workers. Anyone who appeared to be of Hispanic origin was separated from other workers and escorted outside to a fenced yard. Roads around the sprawling plant were blocked and ICE helicopters hovered overhead. One resident thought there had been a terrorist attack.1 For the 595 immigrant workers that were arrested that day, there might as well have been. By evening of that long, hot summer day, 488 immigrant workers, many in handcuffs, had been transported on dozens of ICE buses to an immigrant detention center in Jena, Louisiana, four hours away—ripped apart from their families and a community they had come to think of as home. Another 107 persons, mostly women, had been deemed “humanitarian” cases2 and were released with electronic monitoring devices attached to their ankles. They were forced to wear these devices day and night for 22 months.

In the midst of such terror, a small Catholic church became the center of solace and assistance. Several Catholic agencies and the Loyola University New Orleans Law Clinic also played key roles in assisting raid victims. This article examines the Church’s response to the raid in Laurel,3 and how a small Catholic community in the middle of a deeply conservative state was able to mitigate some of the harmful effects of the raid on its immigrant members.

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