Georgia Pastor Loses Flock to Immigration Raid Pastor Ariel Rodriguez once served a good-sized Hispanic community in Stillmore, Ga. Now few are left after immigration agents raided a chicken-processing plant there, arresting and deporting hundreds of undocumented workers.
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Georgia Pastor Loses Flock to Immigration Raid

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Georgia Pastor Loses Flock to Immigration Raid

Georgia Pastor Loses Flock to Immigration Raid

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One tiny town in Georgia has felt the effects of a crackdown on illegal immigrants. The poultry processing plant in Stillmore, Georgia, had attracted hundreds of mainly Mexican workers, which is why three years ago, Baptist Pastor Ariel Rodriguez moved there from Mexico to minister to this booming population of the illegal Mexican workers. Then last year, the Immigration Agency targeted the poultry plant. Nearly all the Hispanic employees were arrested or deported or they left town on their own.

As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, Rodriguez is now doing what he can for the few dozen Hispanics who remain.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Stillmore is barely a stop in the highway, a couple of gas stations, a town hall and fire department. In midday, it feels like a ghost town. But Ariel Rodriguez remembers how vibrant it was.

Pastor ARIEL RODRIGUEZ (Baptist Minister, Stillmore, Georgia): (Through translator) Before the raid, lots of people would stroll along here. They'd come to chat and have a drink. They'd come to the Laundromat, or to play billiards, or just chill.

LUDDEN: Today on this strip, one Mexican goods store is boarded up, another limps along with half-empty shelves.

(Soundbite of hammering)

LUDDEN: Does it close a lot during the day?

Pastor RODRIGUEZ: Si. Mm-hmm.

LUDDEN: Rodriguez says the owner opens up just a few hours each afternoon or on weekends. Posters in the store window advertising a Latino music concert and regular bus trips to Mexico might as well be relics from another era. In the days after last September's raids, some Hispanics hid out in nearby woods. Pastor Rodriguez would bring them food, and then he slowly helped them find work elsewhere. Some who fled to nearby States have even ventured back.

Pastor RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) They found work in the cotton fields, or I'd help them find jobs raising pigs or harvesting pine trees. Others are working in the onion fields.

LUDDEN: Rodriguez is something of an informal labor broker, helping to translate or make contacts. He says people constantly ask if he knows when there might be another immigration raid, so he tries to keep up with the contentious debate in Washington to sense which way things are headed.

(Soundbite of traffic sounds)

(Soundbite of door closing)

Pastor RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Inside the church social room, Rodriguez says he used to sponsor English classes. But since the immigration raid, there aren't enough people -get-togethers with Americans to help Hispanic residents integrate have also been nixed. But there is still one class taking place here.

Pastor RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Rodriguez shows off a side room with a tiny table and chairs. He says about a dozen children in the community are most comfortable speaking English, which is great he says. But their parents really need them to speak Spanish, so the church offers lessons.

Back outside on the parched lawn, Rodriguez laments that the immigration raids tore apart families. He says one man arrested last fall has been waiting all this time just over the border in Mexico where agents dropped him off, penniless.

Pastor RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: Rodriguez says the man called his wife here and said he didn't even have enough money to get back to their home village, so she continued working, saving up for the journey. Just the week before, she and the couple's young son said goodbye to Rodriguez, returning to Mexico and leaving Stillmore's lonely Hispanic population smaller still.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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