From the outside, the brick and metal building in Paris, Texas, looks like any other storefront. But inside, Iglesia Evangelica Filadelfia has become a place of refuge.
This church is not just a house of worship. It’s where immigrants caught up in a raid at a trailer factory — and their family members — have gone seeking information, financial aid and comfort.
Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents descended on Load Trail in the nearby town of Sumner. ICE arrested 159 workers on immigration violations, including charges of using false work and immigration documents.
Dalila Reynoso says the church is a safe space for many of the affected families.
“They’re also getting their needs met for groceries, or food, things they may need at home while they’re waiting,” said Reynoso, as she shows a visitor around.
Reynoso is with the group Justice For Our Neighbors of East Texas. She says affected families need help paying their bills.
“What if these families have a house mortgage? You know, if they worked at this plant for 18 to 20 years, they haven’t been paying rent. They’ve been buying their home.,” Reynoso said. “How are they going to pay that mortgage?”
Some families plan to sell their belongings to raise money. The church has set up a GoFundMe account and is also collecting food, bottled water, diapers and hygiene products.
Pastor Beto Prado leads a Spanish-language congregation at nearby First Baptist Church. He was eating with his 7-year-old daughter in her school cafeteria when he got a call the morning of the raid. He told his little girl he loved her and drove 15 minutes to Sumner.
When he arrived, he saw several buses from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE agents stood at every gate and door of the plant.
“I took some videos and it took me a little while to really believe that,” Prado said. “I know it was real because I was seeing that with my eyes, but it took me a little while to really understand all what was going on.”
Prado tears up when he talks about the families affected by the raid. His biggest question is what’s going to happen to them. Some had more than one relative who worked at Load Trail.
“If the bond is $5,000 or $7,000 — so you know, seven times two — it’s a lot of money to come up with in a day or two days,” Prado said. “And I know families who have three members in the family that were detained, and it’s a lot of money.”
ICE has charged some of the immigrants arrested with using fake documents, like visas and immigration papers. Officials have said the raid was the largest at a single site in a decade.
Prado, who’s originally from Mexico, says he understands deporting people who’ve committed serious crimes. But he doesn’t think the majority of immigrants arrested at Load Trail fall into that category.
“Most of these families, because I know them, they go to work, they come home and they are a good people,” Prado said. “So I do think that we as a people — we as Americans — have the heart to help them, and I say, ‘Let’s help them.’”
Those are comforting words for Miguel Oliva Esquivel, who worked at Load Trail. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the 62-year-old and his family stopped by the church, Iglesia Evangelica Filadelfia, seeking help.
He and his wife have three adult children – one of them has special needs.
Esquivel says that when ICE arrested him, all he could do was think about his wife and son. He pays for everything in the house — food, diapers, cleaning supplies.
Load Trail officials say they were surprised by the raid and are cooperating with ICE. They say they’ve also set up a fund to help families affected by the raid.
Isabel Cruz, an immigration attorney from Dallas, has been helping some of those families.
She says many immigrants like Esquivel have worked in the U.S. for years and should be spared deportation.
“There’s all these other considerations,” Esquivel said. “They have formed this community. They have certainly supported it financially with their living here, with raising their families here, businesses, everything.”
In most of these raids, Cruz says, it’s not just the worker who’s affected. It’s an entire family.