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Lutherans Responding to People Affected by Iowa Immigration Raid

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2008-05-18 05:28:49     
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Postville, Iowa, are responding to the needs of people who have been affected by a May 12 federal immigration raid at a Postville meat processing plant. Hundreds of family members of those arrested have taken refuge inside St. Bridget's Catholic Church, Postville, said the Rev. Stephen P. Brackett, St. Paul Lutheran Church.

On May 12 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 390 people, and were seeking an additional 300 people who were not at the kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc. The purpose of the raid was to secure evidence of possible identity theft, stolen Social Security numbers and illegal immigration, said an ICE spokesperson. Federal officials said the raid was the largest operation of its kind in U.S. history.

Church members and others in the community have stepped in to help family members who were affected, Brackett said. He estimated that as many as 30 members of St. Paul are helping out at St. Bridget's by providing food and clothing, tutoring students and reading to younger children. Several students from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, one of 28 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) colleges and universities, are also helping, he said.

For those arrested a significant need will be securing legal help, Brackett said. The cost of meeting with a lawyer is at least $150 per person, he said.

No one is staying at St. Paul because most people affected are Roman Catholic and afraid to leave the church building for fear of arrest, Brackett explained.

Calling the situation "very traumatic" for those affected, Brackett said some family circumstances are "excessively complicated" because some children are U.S. citizens and their parents may not be U.S. citizens. Families could be broken up if members are deported, he said.

"Families and friends are suffering tremendous loss and grief," said the Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, bishop, ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod, Waverly. "The long-term implications for these families, as well as the impact on the schools and businesses of Postville, are significant."

The synod is developing a list of pastors who speak English and Spanish to assist families, Ullestad said. He asked Lutherans to pray for the people of Postville, and the bishop invited congregations to talk about immigration concerns.

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