On Wednesday, August 8, people across the country saw the terrible scenes on their television: hundreds of ICE agents raiding several poultry plants in Mississippi, leaving crying children in their wake. The response from Church and labor was immediate. The state’s Catholic Bishops condemned the raid, and Catholic Charities set up headquarters in parishes near each plant. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (UFCW) also rushed to the aid of the workers and their families.
The Catholic bishops joined with their Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran counterparts to denounce the raid in a joint statement and call for solidarity with those affected. Bishop Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson, where most of the workers lived, was even more explicit, telling America Magazine:
“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hard-working people.” He said he was bewildered that authorities would choose to carry out the operation as these Mississippi communities began the first day of school.
Starting with Canton’s Sacred Heart, Catholic Charities worked with parishes near each of the plants to set up reception centers where workers and their families could obtain services. This is where the UFCW entered the picture as well, sending a support team to Mississippi. Dorothy Balser, director of parish- based ministries for Catholic Charities, explained how Sacred Heart Parish offered space for the union to work with its affected members and their families. “They quickly set up an intake process to assess members’ needs and offer legal assistance,” Balser said.
(Despite some misconceptions, unions don’t discriminate by immigration status. “We aren’t the employer and don’t do the hiring,” explained UFCW Civil Rights Director Robin Williams. “When we represent a plant, we want to bring justice for every worker there.” UFCW Local 1529 represented workers in two of the affected plants.)
The heartrending images inspired a flood of volunteers and donations in the days after the raids, but interest is turning elsewhere now. The workers have long-term needs: workers who lost their jobs are struggling to pay for food, rent and utilities. Can you help? Diocese of Jackson Catholic Charities has set up a webpage to accept cash and in-kind donations. CLICK HERE to donate.