Injustice Calls Us to Welcome the Immigrant in Mississippi

Anna Del Castillo | June 21, 2016

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Growing up in South Mississippi was a formative, frustrating, and eye-opening experience. As the daughter of a first generation Peruvian-Bolivian immigrant father and a social justice activist mother, much of my childhood was spent in immigrant communities. When I was a child, my mother helped start a hispanic ministry through the United Methodist Church called the Mission Center in Forest, Mississippi. Forest is just a small Mississippi town, but in it, I found all of the injustices of the world. Forest was home to two major poultry processing plants. The long hours of gruesome and undesirable work attracted employers to seek immigrant labor. As a kid, I would excitedly point out the large eighteen wheelers carrying hundreds of small chickens in metal cages alongside my family’s car. Little did I know, these animals endured a gruesome reality as did the immigrant laborers who arrived at the processing plants.

Undocumented workers provided cheap and efficient labor. They often worked exorbitant hours for unfair wages. Employers treated them unjustly with no repercussions because their employees did not report them out of fear of deportation. Similarly, Latino immigrants were targets of crime because it was known that they would not go to the police. As a result, adults came to the mission center in moments of crisis. The majority undocumented population at the mission center came looking for legal advice, clothing, and other services. The mission center offered these services, but most importantly, it offered a community. It was a center where people celebrated diverse cultures and rejoiced in fellowship. It provided a safe haven in a discriminatory and isolating world. My time as a child at the mission center transformed me. I grew up playing with children that looked like me, talked like me, played like me, but at the end of the day, when our time on the playground was over, we went home to very different realities. I did not live in constant fear of family members being deported. My home did not get raided in the middle of the night, and I benefited from the privileges of citizenship. I watched as a broken immigration system stripped my friends and their families of human dignity and basic freedoms.

Eventually my mother assumed a new job, and my family moved away from the mission center. I grew up in a great school district and was afforded many wonderful opportunities, including a scholarship to attend college. Now as young adult preparing to enter into the professional world, I often think about my friends from the mission center. I wonder if their futures look similar to mine. I wonder if their families were ever united, or if they were able to apply to college. As a child, I could not fully understand the injustices that those in my community experienced, but now as an adult, those memories continuously inspire me to fight for the rights of immigrants. My experiences brought me to my internship this summer with the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and Church World Service. I am passionate about the work CWS does to empower and protect both refugee and immigrant populations around the world.

In 2012, CWS worked alongside the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference (MRLC) to mobilize forty clergy, including Bishops from the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Catholic Church, and the New Horizon International Church, for a press conference at the Mississippi State Capitol to help stop HB 488, an anti-immigrant bill that would have caused extreme restrictions for undocumented people. In 2016, CWS again worked with the MRLC and local immigrants rights groups to launch an interfaith leader sign on letter that was delivered to lawmakers stop SB 2306, an anti-sanctuary city bill that would have forced local police to collaborate with immigration enforcement, causing more families to be separated. While it was a huge victory to stop SB 2306 this year, anti-immigration legislation continues to arise in Mississippi and across the United States. I am excited to be a part of an organization that continues to fight for the rights of immigrants and refugees, and I hope I can use my experiences to go back to Mississippi and help my community members in my home state.

Anna Del Castillo is a Summer 2016 CWS Immigration and Refugee Program Intern in Washington, D.C.