GRAINGER COUNTY, Tenn. — Nearly a year after 97 people were detained in one of the biggest Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the state, many families still live with uncertainty as they await their court date to find out if they will be deported.
"The day that she went to court, I thought she was going to get deported," said Alex, a 13-year-old boy whose mother, Victoria, was detained in the raid. "My heart is breaking just thinking about it."
On April 5, 2018, immigration officials raided the Southeastern Provision slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Grainger County.
HOLA of Lakeway, a group working to help those involved, says 10 people have since been deported, 56 were released, and more than 30 are still going through the legal process that will determine their future.
"How do you respond to a child and say your mother might not be here tomorrow? What do you say? They’ve only known this country as their home," said Father Steve Pawelk, who works with Saint John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge to help those impacted by the raid. "It just creates a lot of insecurity. There’s not the same sense of joy. There’s a lot of anxiety."
Victoria was in the country illegally and worked at Southeastern Provision at the time of the raid. She asked us not to use her full name or show her face or her kids out of fear for their safety since she is in the country illegally.
Her case is ongoing. She travels to Memphis for court hearings every couple of months.
"We came here for one reason. To give a better life to our children," she says in Spanish. "In March, I crossed 15 years in the United States. I have three kids. All three were born here. I'm scared because my son needs to be at the doctor a lot."
Community groups have come together to try and help those impacted. HOLA of Lakeway helps get people to their court dates and offers English lessons to help people gain citizenship.
"They might not have the same resources that they used to have. So now they struggle with the economic situation, providing for their family," said Betsy Hurst, a board member at HOLA. "There are still a lot of students think, 'are my parents going to be taken back?' They’re worried that’s going to happen. They’re still afraid."
As Victoria's family waits for her next hearing in May, all the family can do is pray they will be allowed to stay together.
She is not allowed to work anymore. The family now leans on the young kids to supplement the lost income.
"So I can give some money to my mom or send some to Mexico," said her son, Alex. "I really just don’t want my mom to go to Mexico."
The operator of the Southeastern Provision plant pleaded guilty to tax fraud, wire fraud, and employment of people in the country illegally. James Brantley’s sentencing was put off in February because it appears he is cooperating with authorities on another unidentified case.
That sentencing is now scheduled for June 17.