Salem church asks for understanding instead of judgment of immigrant families

Local News

Tuesday night’s immigration raid at the Fresh Mark meat plant in Salem took an emotional toll on families and the local church community.

“These people aren’t going to be able to work for a while, and so people need diapers, and milk and the basic necessities of life for them and their children,” said Sister Rene Weeks, with St. Paul Catholic Church.

Many Guatemalan families are getting help from St. Paul’s. Their issues are far from over, but the church stands behind them.

As children played on the lawn of St. Paul Catholic Church Wednesday afternoon, adults tried to figure out how to move forward.

On Tuesday, ICE rounded up 140 Guatemalan workers at Fresh Mark. The church said 90 of them are still in detention, but 45 were released Wednesday morning.

“Of those 45, most of them are here legally but they were taken last night because they didn’t have documents with them at the moment that proved that, so everyone was taken,” Sister Rene said.

VIDEO: ICE raid at Salem business

She said the school district found children that were left without supervision. They spent the night at a local church, connecting kids and adults with social services.

“Many of those children came in crying,” Sister Rene said. “The adults, one of them said, ‘My heart has just been pulled out.'”

One woman said her two brothers were picked up in the raid.

MORE: Legal fight in Salem raids could be slow process

“They took them,” she said in Spanish. “I have no news about where they are. I don’t know what is going to happen with them.”

She said the church is helping her connect with lawyers, and it gave her a number to call so she can figure out where her family is and what’s happening to them.

Sister Rene is asking the community to try to understand these people’s circumstance before they judge.

“They were living in situations of extreme violence and poverty, where you could not assure your own family’s safety,” she said. “I think us families, if the situation were reversed, would be willing to break laws also.”

The union representing Fresh Mark employees said it’s outraged by the arrests and “will not stand for violence against immigrants” or “tearing families apart.”

The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown said it welcomes immigrants and is praying for the families affected:

The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us,’ for in this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ. The Catholic Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education and social services, especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances. (Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishop)

The family is the central social institution that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. When family separation takes place at the border, or as a result of sudden and unannounced raids in our local communities, the Church decries the terrible impact on vulnerable and innocent children and families.

Catholic Charities will be working with local churches and organizations responding to meet the needs of those affected, offering pastoral and practical care. Please join us in praying for the families affected and for just immigration reform.”

Local lawmakers are speaking out about the raid.

State Representative John Boccieri said he is concerned about the raid and doesn’t like the fact that it’s separating families. He feels employers who hire undocumented workers need to be prosecuted.

“If they are aiding and abetting this problem in the United States, they need to be held into account. Employers who are knowingly and willingly going outside the bounds with what they know are illegal practices, then they need to be held accountable.”

Republican Bill Johnson released a statement that says, in part:

These raids in Salem prove that America is serious about enforcing our immigration laws.”

State Senator Joe Schiavoni says in a statement:

This is a moral issue, not a Democratic or Republican one, so I hope we can come together as Americans and find a better way.”

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