HAMBLEN COUNTY — The faces of despair and uncertainty filled the St. Patrick Catholic Church in Morristown Friday as hundreds of families waited to hear news about their loved ones detained during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on Thursday.
"I look up to him. Many things that I do is for him because he is ill. I just want to see him," said a 13-year-old boy whose father was detained.
He was born in America, but did not want us to use his name out of fear ICE would come after his undocumented mother, as they did his father.
"I got home and I asked my mom if she knew about it. She was like yes, they got your dad, and I was shocked."
Homeland Security Investigations encountered 97 individuals who were subject to removal from the United States during the execution of a federal criminal search warrant at Southeastern Provision meatpacking plant.
11 of them were arrested on federal or state criminal charges while 86 were arrested on administrative charges. 54 have been placed in detention and set through removal proceedings while 32 were released.
According to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, those 54 still in ICE custody will be brought to centers in Alabama, then Louisiana while legal process takes place.
“Our highest priority is getting these people high quality legal representation, insuring everybody has their fair day in court and that people can be reunited with their families as soon as possible,” said TIRRC co-director Stephanie Teatro.
Teatro said the process could take some time, it could be weeks or months before families are reunited, if ever.
Father Steve Pawelk was the first catholic pastor in Grainger County, he’s said 1/3 to 1/2 of his congregation was affected by the raid. As he helped at St. Patrick, you could see the concern for these families' future in his eyes.
“My mother, my father, my brother, my son, my grandmother is no longer in my house, so the kids are saying, ‘when am I going to see daddy and mommy again?'” said Father Pawelk.
“So you have that grief and then the anxiety, ‘how will my family come back together?’ And for some, how will I financially support? This may be the only breadwinner of the family. So how are we going to financially make it. So if you can think about your house being torn apart by a tornado, think of that emotion and then double it or triple it. It is just devastating.”
There was a bright side to the day. Dozens of volunteers donated food and water to the church Friday to help the families of those affected. Lawyers provided free legal aid to anyone who needed it.
Children played on the floor, unaware they may never see their loved ones again.
Regardless of their immigrations status, what everyone here in the church knows is that America may never feel like home again.
"With all this going on," the young boy said. "It doesn't feel like home any more."