We write to you from Morristown, Tennessee, in the aftermath of the largest workplace raid by immigration authorities in over a decade. As you’ve surely heard, on the morning of April 5th, federal agents, with the assistance of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, stormed into Southeastern Provision, a meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee. As helicopters circled above the factory and agents blocked doors, around 100 workers were rounded up and filed into buses without any opportunity to explain who they were, how long they had been there, or whether they were subject to federal immigration law at all. 54 community members living in East Tennessee for decades, some of whom had devoted over ten years of honest labor to that factory, were shipped out of the state without even a chance to say goodbye to their spouses and children. Their families were told nothing, and were left to wonder what had happened to loved ones who never came home.
This is a humanitarian crisis in our very own state. At least 160 children are missing a parent, nearly 600 students in a single school district have stayed home out of fear, and participation in the economy and community has been chilled. For the past seven days, local organizations and community volunteers have operated a disaster relief center out of St. Patrick Catholic Church, addressing the urgent needs of hundreds of families whose lives have been torn apart. Children need trauma counseling, spouses and parents need powers of attorney to designate guardianship for their children in case of deportation, and families need assistance to simply feed themselves since wage-earners have been extracted from their households. Read more from CNN.com.
Where is the public response from our policymakers and elected officials across the state? We urge you to recognize that this is no time for silence. It's hard to imagine another kind of crisis that would cause 5% of the district's children to stay home that wouldn't trigger some kind of intervention or at least public response. We invite you to join us here, in Morristown and its surrounding communities, to see for yourselves the human costs of this unconscionable abuse of power, to meet with the children devastated by this assault on their families, to hear from the thousands who are rightly afraid to go to work, take their kids to school, or even leave their homes. Come learn from teachers and school officials about how this workplace raid has turned every educator into a counselor and social worker, and how many are still working to locate the students missing from their classrooms. Come talk with leaders of faith and community-based groups, and those who have dropped everything and directed scarce resources to helping their neighbors in distress.
The disaster stemming from last week's immigration raid continues to unfold. But, we know from similar raids in previous decades that the impact on children's health, on the school system, and on the local economy can last for years to come. The time is now for elected officials to investigate and intervene. This must be recognized for the emergency that it is and that these hundreds of children, most of whom are U.S. citizens, deserve to be seen as Tennesseans in crisis. Please, do or say something.
The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition