By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
With the long arm of the Statue of Liberty overlooking them, a community gathered on the front lawn of the Henry County Courthouse to pray for the safe return of fathers, husbands and hardworking Mt. Pleasant residents following their arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week.
Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, dozens of people stood on the corner of E. Washington St. and S. Main St. in Mt. Pleasant, holding signs that read ?Solidarity,? ?Legal Representation, not Deportation? and ?Keep families together.?
The vigil was an outpouring of support from the community to their Hispanic neighbors following the arrest of 32 employees from MPC Enterprises Wednesday, May 9 by ICE agents.
?We are devastated for what happened. We have really sad faces,? said David Suarez, bilingual community development manager at Community 1st Credit Union and member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). ?At this time, we have to make sure we take care of families left behind because of ICE,? he continued with a translator.
As Suarez has connected with each of the 32 families affected by the arrests, most of whom are currently too afraid to leave their homes for fear of deportation, he learned that one minor was left figuratively orphaned through his father?s arrest. Now, this child is left to find a lawyer to help his father.
Suarez spoke about another family, a pregnant mother who is alone right now as her husband is detained at either the Linn County Correctional Center in Cedar Rapids or the Hardin County Detention Center in Eldora.
?This is really emotional for me,? Suarez said. ?I have been working with families for two days trying to take care of the women and children in need right now.?
As he concluded speaking Thursday, Suarez added proudly, ?Next week, I am going to Des Moines to become a citizen. So many people want to be a part of this country to have a better life.?
Carolina Avila also shared her experience during the vigil since the arrests said she was left taking care of her nephew and several young children who can?t take care of themselves as a result of the raid.
?These types of actions separate families,? Avila said through a translator. ?This is not right. People who worked hard to get here and worked hard while they were here. These automatic deportations need to stop. It?s very difficult to talk about.?
Tammy Schull, chairwoman of Iowa Welcomes its Immigrant Neighbors (Iowa WINS), hopes that the vigil not only shows support to the immigrant families in Mt. Pleasant, but encourages other residents to educate themselves about immigration.
As she held a sign that read ?Think about the children,? Schull commented on how that should be the common ground found among a divided nation.
English Language Learner (ELL) teachers at Van Allen Elementary School showed their support for families of the men arrested, seeing the effect it has had on their students. With no school Friday, May 11 for Van Allen students, teacher Amanda Clark voiced her concern for the children after a potentially rough weekend for families unsure where their loved ones are in the immigration system.
Fellow ELL teacher Stephanie Nudd agreed. ?Definitely saw some tears today,? she said.
The Latin American community in Mt. Pleasant had more than just local community members on the courthouse lawn showing their support Thursday. Kent Ferns, Social Action and Catholic Charities Director from the Diocese of Davenport, was on the lawn with sign in hand.
?It?s painful when something like this happens. This is too painful, particularly for small towns,? Ferns said.
As Rachel Carreon, from the Latino Council at the University of Iowa, stood on the side of the street with sign in hand, she commented on the other people from the council she knew. ?Basically, the whole council is out here somewhere,? she said.
As the vigil concluded, Lynn Ellsworth, of Mt. Pleasant, volunteered to lead those gathered in a song, ?Let There Be Peace on Earth.?
?Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony,? Ellsworth sang the old hymn. ?Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.?
There will be a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, May 16 at 5 p.m. to discuss next steps. Everyone is invited.
A fund has been established by Iowa WINS at the First Presbyterian Church for donations to help the affected families. Checks can be made payable to the First Presbyterian Church with Iowa WINS on the memo line.