Immigration Raids Cripple Small Towns

100 Released for Humanitarian Reasons

Like Paula, about 100 of the workers were released for humanitarian reasons and were fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets and allowed to go home to their children. Many of them are now seeking refuge at the Spanish-speaking church in Laurel, as Hurricane Gustav heads their way.

"I have two children, and I don't have a job," said Paula, who had only been working at the site for three weeks. "I can't leave because I have the bracelet around my ankles. But my children need food, milk, Pampers."

Caught in the maelstrom of national paranoia about illegal immigration and the crackdown on enforcement, immigrants -- legal and illegal -- are paralyzed with fear, say immigration lawyers and church leaders.

Even those who applaud stepped-up enforcement say the raids have ripple effects across the country, crippling local economies, trampling on civil rights and crushing the human spirit.

In April, 280 workers were apprehended at five Pilgrim's Pride plants in five states. Earlier in the year, 114 workers were detained in a raid at Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys, Calif. Last year, raids on Swift & Co. plants across six states netted 1,297 arrests.

In Laurel, where Howard Industries is the largest employer, stores and restaurants are emptier and some of the trailers where immigrants live were vandalized after they were arrested.

"They took our consumers away, not just our workers," said Roberto Velez, pastor at Inglesia Cristiana Peniel, the church where immigrants are arriving daily.

"All the baby businesses, the rental properties. It's had a big impact on the whole community," he told ABCNews.com. "People are traumatized and hiding under their beds. They don't want to go to work."

A Wal-Mart and other shopping centers have been a "dead zone" since the raids, according to Velez. "It's empty, like going to the desert."

The sweeping raid came as a surprise to school officials, who deal with about 300 immigrant children -- most of them American citizens.

"We had no notification," said Jones County Superintendent of Schools Steve Thrash. "My first concern was for the children's safety. We had people in the Spanish program as interpreters, contacting every parent so when they got home a parent would be there."

The day after the raid, about 100 of the 300 Hispanic children -- most of them American -- were absent from the 8,000-student district, according to Thrash. More had returned the next day when school officials assured parents, "it's safe and we can protect them," he said. "It's tough on the kids."

But Thrash's stance against illegal immigration reflects much of the sentiment across the country: "I have known students of illegals before, and can you believe it's against the law for me to report them? That's a shame."

'They Should Live in U.S. Legally'

"We have nothing against these folks," he said. "They are good people but they ought to live in the U.S. legally."

Before the crackdown, workers would have simply been deported. But now, many are charged as criminals for using false Social Security numbers or legal papers and are sentenced to prison.

Those arrests are on a steep climb. Since 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created to counter terrorism, ICE's criminal arrests have jumped from 25 to 865 and administrative arrests have risen from 485 to 4,077.

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