Around 150 people were gathered and said “Presente” after the names of each of person deported a year ago was read out loud. This was a gathering in early April to commemorate the year anniversary of the raids that took place outside of Morristown, a small town in East Tennessee. The gathering felt like a family reunion as we remembered those who were deported and celebrated the continuance of a community that chose to remain together amidst adversity as they fought for the release of 90 people detained.
The arrests happened on April 5, 2018 at the meatpacking plant in Bean Station. Workers at the meatpacking plant reported rough treatment and detention by ICE officials, despite having work authorization, which is a clear violation of the law and basic, constitutional rights.
Children were left without primary caretakers and local churches provided sanctuary for dozens of others. Eyewitnesses also report that local law enforcement blocked roads around the plant, creating a sense of chaos and panic within the community. The result was devastation. It was truly a man-made disaster led by the Trump administration using Tennessee as a practice ground to carry out their anti-immigrant policies in workplace raids. The day of the raid the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the staff with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement created a safe space at St. Patricks’ church and embarked with the families affected on a process of healing and consciousness building that helped to translate their pain into power. We created exercises to transform trauma and were able to channel the anger towards a very simple question: Who made it possible for this raid to happen in a small town in rural Tennessee?
They questioned local mayors in the area (who never said anything publicly) and even started looking for answers from Gov. Bill Haslam last year. The families were courageous and decided to share their stories in the media. They created a committee and fund for victims of the raid called Todos Somos Uno, which held vigils, protests, a Mothers’ Day celebration. Along with TIRRC, St. Patrick’s Church and others, they raised $70,000 to pay for the bond and to cover other immediate needs. Todos Somos Uno was able to come to Washington D.C last summer and organized a congressional hearing with TIRRC, FIRM, NILC and SPLC in order to put their stories on record and share how these brutal enforcement actions destroyed their town back.
A year later, I reflect on the different communities that have been affected by massive raids. Iowa, Alabama, Arkansas, DC, Maryland, Virginia, California, North Carolina and Texas to name a few. An analysis of the 44,000-some immigrants in ICE custody last summer found that a full 80 percent of detainees had only committed a minor offense such as a traffic violation or had no prior convictions at all, according to a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. It’s clear that this administration is trying to get as many immigrants out of the country and criminalizing our dreams and our existence.
Returning to Tennessee was emotional as people spoke of the pain they felt, missing the 14 people who were deported. For those who were released after their detention, their stories were around the difficulty in gaining employment and overcoming the financial, emotional and psychological effects of detention. While this experience shook the moral foundation of the town, it brought the community together in such a way, that there was a sense of happiness when people saw each other again. Not only was Todos Somos Uno re-committed to fighting the deportation machine, but they were now a family.
I was blessed to share delicious tamales with the families once again and to learn that the human spirit is resilient and finds meaning in the hardest moments. And that many times, we have to take things one day at a time.