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This town has a plan to protect children from ICE

Matt Vasilogambros, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa -- After Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers descended on the Midwest Precast Concrete facility on the outskirts of this small, quiet town in eastern Iowa, news of the dramatic May 9 raid quickly spread to the community's schools. Some students in the high school left class without a word, hurrying to track down their family members. Some teachers quietly cried to themselves, knowing a handful of their students would be without their fathers that night. Some parents picked their kids up from school early, fearing immigration enforcement might next come for the students.

But Gabriella, a thin 12-year-old with dark brown hair and black-rimmed glasses who until recently only worried about her next clarinet performance, found out about the raid in a text from her mom on the bus ride home: "Immigration took dad away."

When government vans carrying the 32 men left town to detention centers spread across the region, it showed how unprepared the community of Mount Pleasant was for a raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As the Trump administration picks up the pace of workplace raids nationwide, other communities will have the same experience that Mount Pleasant did. No one knows, however, which workplace will be hit next, which schools might have to prepare their teachers and students, which families will soon have to explain a parent's disappearance to fearful children and scramble to pay their bills after its breadwinner is taken away. Our country is vast, and immigrant communities dot every state.

A raid could happen anytime, Gabriella's parents, who came to the U.S. illegally from Guatemala, had told her. But as the school bus passed rows of cottage-style, white homes and expansive lawns that Wednesday afternoon, Gabriella thought it might have been a joke.

It wasn't until she opened the door to an empty home that reality sank in: She would have to care for her three younger siblings until her mom returned from meeting immigration attorneys in Des Moines. There would be no celebration for her youngest brother's fourth birthday that evening.

That night she cried herself to sleep and dreamed her dad would be home when she woke up. A month later, he is still detained.

Gabriella hasn't been eating; she spends most of the time in her room with the door closed, said her mother, Alba. (She asked that her family's name not be used because of their immigration status.)

Gabriella's dad had promised he was going to take her and her siblings out more on the weekends this summer. "He just likes to make us laugh and make us happy," Gabriella said, before staring at her feet. "It was wrong for them to take all of those men because they have families."

The raid caught Mount Pleasant by surprise; the people and institutions most affected were not prepared to deal with the fallout. But a few people suspected this day might come. They formed a group, Iowa Welcomes its Immigrant Neighbors. They even held an emergency response training session just weeks earlier.

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