Better together: The power of connection

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Trey Hegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, speaks at a Lunch and Learn presentation last month, hosted by the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Teamwork and community connections were essential for IowaWINs to respond quickly with assistance for immigrant families affected by a 2018 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Mount Pleasant.

“When the ICE raid happened, we were able to respond that day,” said Tammy Shull, who chairs IowaWINs (Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors), a commission of First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant. Allies and members of the group spoke at a recent Lunch and Learn presentation, hosted online by the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office.

Like the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), of which First Presbyterian in Mount Pleasant is a member, supports a call to love and welcome immigrants, said Pastor Trey Hegar.
The Mount Pleasant church began outreach to immigrants a few years before the ICE raid. The group hoped to welcome Syrian refugees to the area but that effort, ultimately, was not possible, Shull said. Still, the fledgling group worked to make connections with immigrants and allies in the community through educational and social events and other outreach opportunities.

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Those connections proved invaluable in May 2018 when ICE raided the Midwest Precast Concrete facility, arresting 32 people for alleged immigration violations. Many partnerships, including with the Diocese of Davenport, helped generate donations and personnel necessary to help the detained individuals who, because they presumed to be undocumented, did not have the right to a phone call, attorney or speedy trial. “We had all the resources the families needed,” Shull said. “It is important to have community response teams ready so when things happen, you can respond.”

Since the raid, a majority of those detained have been able to obtain work permits. However, the process took about a year, leaving many families without a primary source of income during that time. Through continued connections with churches, individuals and media outlets throughout the state, IowaWINs has helped families fulfill immediate needs such as food and rent assistance. Additional families have been helped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sister Mary Bea Snyder, CHM, said she began collaborating with IowaWINs during the 2018 Christmas season after learning that undocumented children are not eligible for Toys for Tots gifts. “My heart nearly leapt out of my body. I thought about these families in Mount Pleasant,” she said. “The babies (who were born in the U.S.) would get toys and the older children nothing.” Other members of her congregation joined the cause and for the past three years have raised funds and collected toys to donate to the families. “We served 42 families and about 67 children last year.”

Kent Ferris, director of the diocesan Social Action Office, said concerned individuals and families have helped the diocese support those affected by the raid. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Davenport has been an essential partner as well, helping to deliver food, toiletries and other donations to Mount Pleasant.

Members of IowaWINs said alliances throughout the state provide the recognition necessary to pursue other projects aimed at helping immigrants and people of color. Recently, the organization has been working to establish a microloan program with the help of local financial institutions. Microloans offer individuals without access to traditional loans a chance to borrow small amounts of money to start businesses, change legal status, etc. “I think it’s going to have a huge regional impact,” Hegar said. “Not just on the immigrant community, but local business.”

Community support, especially from the Davenport Diocese, has led to ecumenical friendship, Hegar said. “When the crisis came, everything just came together.”

Changing hearts

The Rev. Trey Hegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, said the Presbyterian Church (USA), of which First Presbyterian is a member, supports a call to love and welcome immigrants. However, that commitment is a “divisive topic,” among churchgoers. “It’s thrown around as political fodder so much, we forget they (immigrants) are people.”

Some members were not supportive of First Presbyterian’s outreach to undocumented immigrants through the IowaWINs program, he said. However, he has seen hearts change over the past few years due to the church’s alliance with the immigrants affected by the raid.

One parishioner, who had been critical of the church’s response, decided to go to a Posada celebration hosted by the immigrant community as a “thank you” to the church. “Getting that far to where they are able to come (to something like that) is life changing,” Hegar said. “You move mountains one pebble at a time when you’re doing this work, but you water those seeds and keep nurturing, and sometimes there’s a momentum shift.”


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