On Friday, scores of people gathered at St. Mary's Catholic Church to talk to immigration lawyers and a representative of the Mexican consulate. United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1161, the union representing 1,700 Swift workers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to determine the fate of many of the union's members.
"The common theme is one of fear and confusion," said John Keller, an attorney with the Immigration Law Center. "Just like anyone caught up in a disaster, people are trying to find their families."
On Tuesday, agents of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arrested 1,282 people in six U.S. cities, including 230 people in Worthington. Keller said the majority of those arrested in Worthington were sent to Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa, except for natives of El Salvador, who were being held in Worthington and would soon be sent to the Twin Cities for processing.
"The processing of immigrants both here in Worthington and in other places and the treatment of immigrants is that of people who have less constitutional rights than citizens," Keller said. "They can basically be unable to be located for days and days. That would not be tolerated if these were citizens."
|The Swift meatpacking plant in Worthington relies on a heavily immigrant workforce.
In Worthington, members of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network staffed phones at the UFCW office and visited families of those who were arrested. They reported that some residents – fearful of another raid – have left the area, while others remain in hiding.
Mariano Espinoza, an organizer for the Network, said rights advocates are uncovering more and more stories, such as the case of a young mother still being held. "She has a baby and the baby has been living with a babysitter for the last four days," he said. The network and immigration attorneys are trying to intercede on the woman's behalf, he said.
Reportedly as many as 17 children have been left on their own, with both parents having been arrested. Volunteers said they are still trying to verify that number and provide care for the children.
Sometimes the news is good, said Darin Rehnelt, business agent for Local 1161. "One family, a young man had a kidney ailment," he said. "His dad had been detained and his dad had planned on donating a kidney. They're back together now and I think the (transplant) process will continue. That was fantastic news."
On Sunday afternoon, volunteers delivered more than 7 tons of food and other donations raised in the Twin Cities with the help of the Latino Communications Network. The United Way of Worthington, based at the local Chamber of Commerce, is collecting cash donations to help families pay rent and heating bills. Contact Darlene Maklin, United Way/Chamber of Commerce, 1121 Third Ave, Worthington, MN, 56187, phone 507-372-2919.
At the meatpacking plant, production resumed after a brief shutdown, but many workers are missing.
"For me it was sad to go through every department, see that nobody's there, only three or four people on a line," said Local 1161 Secretary-Treasurer Jose Pedro Lira. "These are people I used to see everyday. Good people, good workers."
Many local churches have responded to help the workers and their families, said Hector Andrade, pastor at Christian Community Church.
"It's going to be a really sad Christmas for the Hispanic community," he said. "A lot of families have been separated. Kids have been left behind. A lot of moms have been taken, dads have been taken, brothers, relatives. Christmas is supposed to be a day to gather together."
The raid took place Dec. 12, the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a major religious holiday in many countries of Latin America.
"In St. Mary's Church on Sunday (before the raid), they had over 1,000 people celebrating," noted Mariano Espinoza. "Today, people are in the same church who are suffering. How ironic it is. It is just sad."
For more information
View video clips from Worthington, Friday Dec 16:
Clip 1 4mb Windows media file (1:43)
Clip 2 3mb Windows media file (1:16)
Clip 3 (en español) 2mb Windows media file (:43)
Wednesday's clip (2mb)