Detainees' Families In Mt. Pleasant Seek Loved Ones, Answers

May 10, 2018

Family members of those detained in an immigration raid in Mt. Pleasant this week are still reeling, after federal law enforcement officials arrested 32 workers at a concrete factory Wednesday morning.

Now their families are trying to navigate the legal system, hire lawyers and figure out how to pay the bills. Fifteen year old Oscar Lopez’s stepfather was among those detained.

“I think of him as the hardest working man there is,” Lopez said. “He just really… he just tried to get a roof over our head, food to us, everything. Give us the best life there could be.”

Lopez said because his mother works, his family is better off than others. Some of those detained by immigration officials were their families' sole breadwinners.

The workers arrested are being held at multiple locations in Iowa, resulting in a scramble among some family members to locate their loved ones.  Some of that work has fallen on the workers’ children, like Lopez, who said he’s the only bilingual member of his family.

“Like today, I didn’t go to school because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on anything,” he said.  “Just thinking about my dad, and the situation that’s going on right now. Like, I had a soccer game today. I’d rather figure out stuff about my dad than go to a game tonight.”

Local churches and community groups in Mt. Pleasant are taking donations to help families pay for legal fees.

The city's First Presbyterian Church has become something of a clearinghouse in the wake of the raid, a place for affected families and supporters to gather. Members of the church first established an immigrant and refugee support group in 2015.

In the hours after the workers were detained, church members sprung into action. Along with the American Friends Service Committee, they are meeting with family members, drafting lists of their immediate needs, directing them to legal services and collecting donations.

Pastor Trey Hegar said the church has a duty to serve the community's needs.

"We all live together in the community and I think that's one of the church's jobs is to reunite after something that hurts happens," Hegar said.

On Thursday the church opened up its doors for a community forum. The city's police chief and superintendent of schools fielded questions, as well as a representative from the state's Office of Latino Affairs and the head of a local food pantry.

Aurelia Ramirez with Latino support organizer LULAC made the 30 mile trip from Columbus Junction to offer her help with coordinating donations. The city's Latino population has grown dramatically in recent years, and Ramirez told the audience her community lives with the same fears.

"We want you to know that although this situation occurred here in Mount Pleasant, you are not alone. Our situation in Columbus Junction is very similar," Ramirez said. "It could be us next."

Details from the federal government have so far been limited to a news release posted on the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa website, which said officials on Wednesday, “…executed a search warrant in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with the assistance of local law enforcement. This was an official law enforcement action and there is no threat to the public.”