By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MOUNT PLEASANT — One year ago today, the lives of 32 families in this southeast Iowa town of 8,700 people were upended. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on May 9, 2018, resulted in the arrest of 32 men at the concrete plant where they worked. Most of them were husbands with families who depended on them for financial support.
To mark the first anniversary of that life-changing event, two Mount Pleasant churches helping to assist the immigrant families – First Presbyterian Church and St. Alphonsus Parish — organized an Ecumenical Evening Prayer service. People of all faiths were invited to the May 5 service at St. Alphonsus.
“It was a way to mark what we’ve gone through together,” said Tammy Shull of Iowa WINS (Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors), a community-based commission of First Presbyterian Church. “Last year, the families were scared and wondering what they were going to do. Now we’re friends and we work together.”
“Buenos tardes amigos” (Good afternoon friends), Bishop Thomas Zinkula greeted the multicultural gathering for the 4 p.m. prayer service.
“Buenos tardes,” the people responded. The other ministers with him in the sanctuary were Rev. Trey Hegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Alphonsus. The Rev. Hegar read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, about mutual love (12:9-16b).
Cantor Andrew Reif, a deacon aspirant for the Diocese of Davenport, led the congregation seamlessly through sung psalms, a hymn and a canticle, alternating in Spanish and English. The opening hymn, “Somos el cuerpo de Cristo,” “We are the body of Christ,” emphasized the sense of solidarity that permeated the prayer service and the light meal served afterwards in the St. Alphonsus Parish Hall.
“It was very powerful, going back and forth between the two languages, and two churches working together,” Fr. Connolly said after the service.
The eyes of love
Bishop Zinkula began his homily (the Spanish version was inserted in the worship aid) with a story about a teacher instilling a lesson on the difference between night and day. When the students struggled to identify the difference, the teacher answered: “When you look into the eyes of another human being and see a brother or a sister, you know that it is morning. If you cannot see a sister or a brother, you will know that it will always be night.”
The bishop addressed the congregation: “When many people in and outside of this community looked into the eyes of the 32 men who were detained after the ICE raid at the concrete plant a year ago, and also into the eyes of their family members, you saw brothers and sisters. You did what we heard Paul tell the Romans to do. You loved your brothers and sisters sincerely, with affection. You demonstrated your love for these men and their families by contributing to their needs, by donating money, food and other necessities. You prayed with them, you wept with them, you hoped with them, and when there were positive developments along the way you rejoiced with them.”
He described the ICE raid as being “like a death; it was like walking in the dark valley we sang about in Psalm 23. The coming together as a community of brothers and sisters was, and is, a resurrection, a new life, a light shining in the darkness. This occurred because people with resurrection eyes looked into the eyes of people who were hurting and struggling, and they saw sisters and brothers. As we sang in the opening hymn, God is revealed when we, the body of Christ, love one another, when we bring the light God’s mercy to others.”
First Presbyterian Church serves as a distribution center to assist the immigrant families impacted by the May 9 ICE raid. Iowa WINS, which oversees that effort, reports that since the ICE raid at the Midwest Precast Concrete factory, seven men have been deported, one of whom is in hiding for fear of his life. One man remains in mandatory immigration detention in the Hardin County Jail even though a federal judge granted him time served. Twenty-four men paid thousands of dollars to bond out of immigration detention and are now awaiting court hearings at home, with their families. Those hearings are scheduled throughout 2019 and into 2020.
“While awaiting their hearings, some of the men have been allowed to apply for work permits. One of the men, a father, has received his work permit and is excited to begin to work again, pay taxes and support his young family,” according to the Iowa WINS report. “Most of the men were the primary wage earners for their families. The women and children left behind have had a significant loss of income and suffered emotional hardships.”
Financial and spiritual support
Iowa WINS has raised more than $300,000 for the immigrant families – to help cover housing, utility, legal expenses and basic necessities. Their needs are ongoing as the wait for court hearings drags on. Information about how to donate is available at https://www.facebook.com/IowaWINs/ and http://www.firstpresbyonline.org/iowawins.html.
Rosita Oliva’s husband, Elmer, was deported to Honduras after spending months in detention following the ICE raid. After he was deported, he went into hiding because of fear for his life, Oliva said. She feels sad and angry. She works to support and take care of their 11-year-son, a fifth-grader, and 4-year-old son. She and the boys attended the prayer service and stayed afterwards for the light meal of rice, soup, salad and cookies.
Julieta Reza’s husband is among the immigrants arrested in the ICE raid and who has bonded out on a $10,000 bond, which had to be paid in full, his wife said. It was beyond their financial means, so they used savings, a loan and financial help from family and friends. Her husband, who is from Guatemala, has applied for asylum, but “the situation in the courts is really slow,” she said. They called their lawyer a few days ago and learned that the hearing won’t happen until 2020. Her husband does not have a work permit. ICE can grant work permits to immigrants who are waiting for a court hearing before a judge. But the process is long, expensive and granted on a case by case basis, Shull said.
“We get a lot of support from Iowa WINS, the Presbyterian Church and this church (St. Alphonsus),” Reza said after the prayer service she attended with her husband and their two children, ages 7 and 4. “We know we are not alone. No matter if you are Hispanic or if you speak Spanish or not … people know about us (the immigrant families) … and know we are good people,” added Reza, who volunteers at the food pantry for the immigrant families at the Presbyterian Church.
She appreciated the prayer service because “the most important thing is the spiritual message given to us. We need to remember that God gives us support for different things … from the people to the church to the whole community.” Her extended family has been in the U.S. since 2003. “God wants our family here.”