“This is causing real harm to real people,” said Monsignor Ken Morman of St. Paul Catholic Church.
More than 200 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and Border Patrol agents used search warrants at two Corso’s locations — a retail center on U.S. 250 in Sandusky and an agricultural center where workers tend to the trees, plants and other products the company grows to sell.
Many of the church members arrested are long-term residents with families here, Morman said, and many of them have American-born children now being taken care of by relatives while the parents await an unknown fate. The detainees have pending court hearings on their immigration statuses and possible release from custody, but what happens after that is uncertain.
One woman and her Texas-born husband have three children — all American citizens — who will be forced to make extremely difficult decisions in the weeks ahead. Morman said the husband, who has no ties to Mexico other than his wife having been born there — is devastated.
“Now he needs to decide if he he’s going to move to Mexico to keep his family together... or if he is going to stay here with the kids,” Morman said.
Bad laws, bad situations
There are numerous other stories of families separated and facing heart-wrenching futures beyond their control. Morman said members of the church have come to their aid in extraordinary ways, but he laments the actions of federal officials.
“The ends can’t justify the means. Even if your motive is good, you can’t do bad things and doing this to kids is a bad thing,” Morman said.
In many instances, the parents escaped poverty, violence or other horrifying conditions in their native lands and have worked here for years, paying taxes and building homes to make a better life for their families. They also became part of the St. Paul family or joined other area churches.
Parishioners have responded to the arrests, donating time, money, food, clothing and other items to help keep the families functioning under the stress. One building on the St. Paul campus has become a warehouse for the collection and distribution of donated items, Morman said, everything from household items to diapers.
Money donations are being deposited in jail accounts at the Calhoun County Jail in Michigan, where the women arrested June 5 are being detained, so they can make phone calls to their families and give updates on the status of their pending cases.
The men arrested are being housed at a private jail in Youngstown under contract with the federal government. Morman said it’s been more difficult to establish communication with them and the requirements for inmate phone banks there are different and more difficult to establish.
It’s also been more difficult for the men to talk with attorneys about their cases, according to HOLA Ohio, a Latino community advocacy group working with the Corso’s workers and other federal detainees.
Most of the lawyers representing them are working pro bono or at a greatly reduced fees.
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), one of the organizations working to find legal representation for the workers, said many of the lawyers work for nonprofits and don’t charge for their services. But many of those lawyers are from Western Ohio and Michigan.
“There are more lawyers available for the women,” HOLA Executive Director Veronica Dahlberg said. “It can be difficult for the lawyers to drive out to Youngstown and then if they want to call their client it is very burdensome.”
The donations from St. Paul parishioners are also used to meet the needs of individual families struggling now that they must take care of a relative’s children or have less income because of the detainment of one of the home’s wage earners.
Long, winding road
Morman has written 31 letters vouching for the character of people detained and asking they be treated well.
“Every Sunday, they pray for fair treatment, not special treatment, just to be treated like people from other countries,” Morman said.
In immigration law, a person accused of being an undocumented immigrant is afforded all the same legal rights as a citizen, except the government isn’t required to pay for representation since the case is civil, not criminal.
“In a criminal process you have to go in front of a neutral judge within 48 hours for a bond hearing,” senior ABLE attorney Mark Heller said. “In this situation, since it’s a civil case, the people have been held for almost 30 days without bond hearings. It actually provides fewer protections than a criminal process.”
The proceedings won’t likely lead to expulsion from the country, or any more immediate deportations for the women. Their first bond and master calendar hearings, comparable to an arraingment on a criminal charge, are scheudled for Thursday and Friday in Detroit’s immigration court.
“They will have an individual hearing scheduled, which is like a trial, and those hearings will be set anywhere from 18 months to two years from now because of how backed up the immigration courts are,” Heller said.
The people who are able to obtain a bond and pay for it, can wait for the next court date at home, but those who can’t pay to get out will remain in detainment.
During this time, in an ironic twist, a defendant released on bond, can try to gain employment documentation from the court to work in the country while they wait for the next court date, Heller said.
Immigration Jim Crow
As a religious leader, Morman said he believes immigration is a broken system which needs to be fixed. He compared the situation to the segregation laws the civil rights movement fought against.
“It takes almost 20 years to have your application considered if you’re from Mexico,” Morman said. “But if you have kids, you can’t wait 20 years to give them the chance at a better life.”
Bishop of the Toledo Diocese Daniel Thomas visited the St. Paul church last week and prayed individually with each family affected by the detainments.
“We recognize our current immigration polices are broken and actively contributing to the suffering and separation of vulnerable families,” Thomas said in statement on the Corso’s raid. “No matter our political persuasion, when families are broken apart, as in this raid, we should all recognize that the common good is not served.”
Morman said the church’s message is and has always been no matter what country you are from there will always be a place for you in the church.
To donate to the families visit stpaulchurch.org.