MOUNT PLEASANT — With the arm of the Statue of Liberty lifted above them, dozens of Iowans gathered on the lawn of the Henry County Courthouse to pray for the safe return of fathers and husbands following the men’s arrest by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents this week.
They held signs that read “Solidarity,” “Legal Representation, not Deportation” and “Keep families together.”
The vigil was in support of the 32 Hispanic workers arrested Wednesday at Midwest Precast Concrete by ICE agents. Of those arrested on suspected immigration violations are 22 men from Guatemala, seven from Mexico, two from El Salvador and one from Honduras, ICE officials said.
The men are being detained in the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids or the Hardin County Jail in Eldora, pending removal proceedings or the outcomes of their cases. The arrests were part of an ongoing criminal investigation, the agency said.
“We are devastated for what happened. We have really sad faces,” David Suarez, community development manager at Community 1st Credit Union and a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said at the rally.
“At this time, we have to make sure we take care of families left behind because of ICE,” he said through a translator.
Suarez said he has connected with the 32 families, most of whom are afraid to leave their homes for fear of deportation. He said he learned of one minor “orphaned” by his father’s arrest and is now trying to find a lawyer to help his father. He also told of a woman who is pregnant and unsure where her husband is being detained.
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“This is really emotional for me,” Suarez said. “I have been working with families for two days trying to take care of the women and children in need right now.”
As he concluded speaking Thursday, Suarez noted he was going to Des Moines next week “to become a citizen. So many people want to be a part of this country to have a better life.”
Carolina Avila also shared her experience during the vigil, saying she is caring for her nephew and several other children following the raid.
“These types of actions separate families,” Avila said through a translator. “This is not right. People who worked hard to get here and worked hard while they were here. These automatic deportations need to stop. It’s very difficult to talk about.”
Tammy Schull, chairwoman of Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors (Iowa WINS), said she hoped the vigil showed support for the immigrant families in Mount Pleasant and also encouraged other residents to educate themselves about immigration.
As she held a sign that read “Think about the children,” Schull commented on how that should be the common ground in a divided nation.
English Language Learner teachers at Van Allen Elementary School showed their support for families of the men arrested, seeing the effect it has had on their students.
With no school Friday for Van Allen students, teacher Amanda Clark voiced her concern for students after a potentially rough weekend for families unsure where their loved ones are in the immigration system.
Fellow ELL teacher Stephanie Nudd agreed. “Definitely saw some tears today,” she said.
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Kent Ferns, Social Action and Catholic Charities director from the Diocese of Davenport, was on the lawn with sign in hand.
“It’s painful when something like this happens,” he said. “This is too painful, particularly for small towns.”
Rachel Carreon, from the Latino Council at the University of Iowa, said, “Basically, the whole council is out here somewhere.”
A meeting will be held at the First Presbyterian Church at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss next steps.