In a powerful feature story this week, the New York Times recounts in vivid detail how ICE agents stormed into Southeastern Provision, a meat-processing plant in Bean Station, TN on April 5th and arrested 97 workers. It had been more than a decade since our country had experienced a raid of this size.
When a raid of this scale happens in our communities, it’s like a bomb goes off. Our team was in Morristown the day of the raid, and for the weeks that followed. As the tragedy and chaos unfolded it was a painful reminder of why our government stopped using this egregious enforcement tactic of mass worksite raids a decade before.
Read below for updates on the powerful legal defense that has already brought dozens of workers home to their families, why we brought our fight to end worksite raids to Washington D.C., how we’re organizing in faith communities to transform this raid from a moment into a movement, and why we must prepare for more worksite raids in the coming months.
BRINGING PEOPLE HOME
Already, 35 of the 54 people who were shipped out of state and held in an immigration detention facility have been released on bond and are back home with their families. This is incredible and is a testament to the power of legal services rooted in community organizing.
We’ve been organizing families and volunteers in Morristown, gathering critical documents and evidence to help attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) build a robust legal defense for all workers arrested during this raid.
Since the bond hearings have been overwhelmingly successful, we need to raise more money to help families pay their bond. Many families must pay more than $5,000 to free their loved one, an often impossible amount for them to raise when an income-earner in their household has been detained for more than two months.
Whether from the detention center or at home with their families, all of the workers must prepare for the lengthy legal battle to fight their deportation. We’re working with SPLC, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Vanderbilt University Law School, local organizations like Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, and others to stand up a pro bono infrastructure to ensure all workers have access to high quality legal counsel to fight for their right to remain. For more information, please contact Camila Herrera at Camila@tnimmigrant.org.
BUILDING POWER TO STOP DEPORTATIONS
Our rapid response work wasn’t only about providing critical services. We created spaces for families to heal together and turn their pain into power. We launched a new organizing committee, Todos Somos Uno, to create an organized voice for the families impacted by the raid to defend their communities and advocate for change.
The committee has organized several public actions on the streets of Morristown, a Mother’s Day party to celebrate the women who’ve been fighting for their families, and events to educate their communities on how to defend their rights if ICE comes back to Morristown
FIGHTING FOR AN END TO WORKSITE RAIDS
Each month since the Bean Station raid, ICE has conducted a mass worksite raid. On May 10th, they raided a concrete plant in Iowa, arresting 32 workers. And last week, ICE conducted a massive raid at two sites operated by a landscape company in Ohio, arresting 114 workers.
The reports coming from Ohio mirror the chaos and trauma of the Bean Station raid – a militaristic operation meant to send waves of fear throughout the immigrant community. Of all of the ways that ICE could investigate employers or enforce labor laws they have decided to engage in the most aggressive and violent forms of enforcement at these worksites.
Morristown families know just how devastating worksite raids are for our communities. That’s why they’re leading the way in fighting for an end to worksite raids. Last Thursday, three leaders from Morristown joined our national partners and members of Congress in Washington D.C. for a congressional briefing on the use of worksite raids.
Congressional staff, elected officials, and journalists heard from Yahel, a young woman who had six of her family members detained during the raid and whose husband remains in detention, Alberto, who was detained and separated from his wife and kids for six weeks, and Martha, who was arrested on the day of the raid but was released that day to care for her children and grandchildren.
These fierce leaders were joined by our legislative champions, Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (Illinois), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (Washington), and Congressman Steve Cohen (Memphis, TN). These legislators (and 39 of their colleagues) sent a letter to DHS and the IRS demanding more information about the raid in Bean Station, accountability from the agencies involved, and justice for the 97 workers.
Although his district is on the opposite end of the state, Congressman Steve Cohen from Memphis was the only Tennessee Member of Congress to sign onto the letter and provide remarks at the briefing. This is unacceptable. The raid in Bean Station has created a humanitarian crisis in our very own state. We’ll be educating candidates in this year’s elections about the devastating impact of worksite raids and their responsibility as elected officials to speak out against these injustices and use the power of their office to limit the damage ICE can do to our communities.
As perfectly captured in the New York Times’ headline, when ICE arrested their immigrant neighbors, Morristown fought back. Since the raid, we’ve been working with U.S. born Tennesseans to process what happened in their community, identify ways they can stand in solidarity with the impacted families, and better understand how the raid is part of a broader picture of escalating enforcement.
77% of Hamblen County residents, where Morristown is located, voted for Donald Trump. But as countless journalists have witnessed, seeing the devastating reality of the administration’s “mass deportation” rhetoric is causing many to change their views.
WE MUST BE PREPARED
Since Trump’s election, we have been preparing our communities to defend against mass deportations. While nothing could ever prepare us for the crisis in Bean Station, months and months of organizing and building infrastructure ensured that we were ready to respond with power on all fronts.
As the Trump administration continues to terrorize communities and scale up immigration enforcement, we have to be ready for more raids and more deportations. We’re continuing to expand our know your rights curriculum, helping community members prepare for encounters with ICE at work, at home, and on the streets.
We’re also helping families make a plan together. At our Family Defense Workshops, families learn their rights, how to gather critical documents and information, and decide what will happen in the event a parent is separated from their children. Alongside legal screenings and bond packets, these services were part of the broader rapid response legal infrastructure we stood up in Morristown. Dozens of volunteer attorneys helped nearly 400 families craft powers of attorney, creating emergency custody arrangements for their more than 700 children in case they were detained or deported.
We need to make sure that every family and community in Tennessee knows how to defend their rights and protect their communities.
Thanks for all the many ways that you’ve shown up and stood with communities in Morristown. The fight for justice for the 97 families and for an end to workplace raids is far from over. We need you to keep fighting with us.