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Arrested Immigrants' Families Struggle in Iowa

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Arrested Immigrants' Families Struggle in Iowa

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Arrested Immigrants' Families Struggle in Iowa

Arrested Immigrants' Families Struggle in Iowa

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Melissa Block speaks with Father Jim Miller, a priest with St. Mary's Catholic Church in Marshalltown, Iowa, about undocumented workers in his parish who were detained last week in an immigration raid. The workers were arrested at a meat-packing plant in Marshalltown. He describes how he aided the workers' families who didn't know the details of their loved ones whereabouts.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDRED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It's been almost a week now since nearly 1,300 workers were detained in immigration raids at meatpacking plants in six states. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE says those detained entered the country illegally, and many committed identity theft to get documents to work. Some have already been deported. Others will face criminal charges.

In Marshalltown, Iowa, about 90 workers were detained. Father Jim Miller is the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Marshalltown. About half his parishioners are Hispanic. He's now trying to help the families of those detained by providing money for rent or food or electric bills. He's especially concerned about detainees with children.

Mr. JIM MILLER (Pastor, St. Mary's Catholic Church): One of them was a mother of a three-month old. She had no one. No husband, you know, at home, to take care of the child. I mean, she was, I understand, nursing the child when she was home with the child. And so it was a very difficult situation. The grandmother took care of the child for a while and said it was too much for her, and thankfully, she was released a couple of days later.

BLOCK: And what was told to the mother? In other words, will she still face proceedings since she was just let off temporarily?

Mr. MILLER: I would suspect but I did not have a chance to talk to her myself.

BLOCK: Are there other parishioners of yours who are in similar situations -children, either who have one parent, or who both of whose parents have been detained?

Mr. MILLER: Yes. I think at some cases, the parents were afraid that if they told them they had children that they were also going to take the children. And so they did not tell them they had children. And because of the fear factor, I think the whole problem was - just became worse.

BLOCK: Well, what to you do for your parishioners? As the pastor of the church, what do you tell them?

Mr. MILLER: We tell them to have hope, you know. We're in this together. We need to get in contact with a lawyer to see, you know, what is your status and how can we help. The sad thing to me is - I just talked to a businessman today, who was interviewed by one of the news agencies. And they asked him what he thought of the raid. And he says it didn't do anything good for Marshalltown. They took the good people - the ones who work, ones who want to make a difference, the ones who care about their families.

If they really wanted to do something, they need to go and get those involved in drugs, and anything illegal, and gangs. And that was where they'd make a positive difference. But this was really affecting - will affect, and is affecting, the whole community.

BLOCK: You mentioned the fear factor. I wonder how you try to counteract that, or if you think, maybe there is good reason for fear now in the community.

Mr. MILLER: Yes, I would feel bad if I told people not to have some hear, because they don't know, you know, when, and if, the agents will come back again, and enforce, and try to take more people. I just spoke two days ago to one of our ladies in the parish. She's a single mother with a little boy, and she is so afraid that she'd be separated from her son. She decided that she had to make the trip back to Mexico and stay there with him.

BLOCK: So, she's going home?

Mr. MILLER: She's gone.

BLOCK: Would there also be voices within the community saying, you know, this is unfortunate. But they were here illegally, and they didn't rightfully have these jobs.

Mr. MILLER: Yes. I had one phone call from a person who said we should send all the Mexicans back. And he said, why don't - aren't you concerned about the poor people here who don't have jobs. And I said we're concerned about everybody. You know, we want to reach out to everyone who's in need. And we do. We try, in the best we can.

Then we had an e-mail today that I did not read, condemning us for helping illegals. And my answer is what would Jesus do? I think Jesus would reach out to people, and anybody who is a believer in Jesus Christ is going to do the same. They're going to help anybody who's suffering. That's our job.

BLOCK: Father Miller, it's good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Mr. MILLER: Thank you. God bless.

BLOCK: Father Jim Miller is the pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Marshalltown, Iowa.

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