All of the sudden in the middle of the workday on Aug. 28, men with guns appeared and helicopters were flying over the Load Trail manufacturing plant in the northeast Texas town of Sumner.
“They put me in handcuffs and treated me like a criminal,” former Load Trail employee Jose Luis Montoya said through an interpreter.
Initially, Montoya said he believed the federal officials were there to arrest some dangerous hoodlum, but it soon dawned on him that they were there to arrest almost everyone.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that day raided Load Trail, which makes vehicle trailers, for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants.
Montoya, 35, of Paris, Texas, was detained for more than a week before his family could raise the $5,000 it would take to get him released on Thursday, his wife, Cecelia Lopez, said.
Montoya said he had been worried about his 3-year-old, who needs weekly chemotherapy treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia.
“Sometimes Medicare does not pay for the costs of all the treatment and I have to pay for the rest,” Montoya said. “I was worried he would not be able to get his treatments if I was not there.”
Fortunately for Montoya and his family, people from their church and others quickly rallied to help.
And many of the volunteers and advocates for the 159 undocumented immigrants who were detained came from Fort Worth. They arrived to Paris with a truckload of food and other donated items.
The families who had been left behind needed essentials, such as groceries, diapers and bandages, that their husbands, brothers and sons usually provided.
The raid did more than remove workers from the plant; it also put families in jeopardy, said Mindia Whittier, a member of the grass roots coalition, United Fort Worth.
“A lot of these people are out of work and unable to get work,” Whittier said. “Because they are undocumented they are not legally employable.”
The raid was part of an ongoing criminal investigation into Load Trail, which employs about 500 workers, according to its website. Sumner is located about 100 miles northeast of Dallas and 12 miles northwest of Paris, a town with a estimated population of about 25,000.
Federal officials accused Load Trail workers of using fraudulent identification documents to get their jobs, ICE stated in a news release.
Of the 159 taken into custody, five were processed at the location and released because they were deemed to be sole caregivers to children, according to federal government officials.
The five individuals were given notices to appear in front of federal authorities. According to the Department of Homeland Security, one individual who was detained voluntarily returned to Mexico, an additional 98 posted immigration bonds and 55 were in ICE custody.
Relatives from many of those families ended up seeking help from RAICES, a group that provides low cost legal help to immigrant families, advocates in Paris said.
The immigration bonds posted by the families of the detainees typically range between $5,000 and $7,500.
Some families had to post bonds for multiple relatives who were swept up during the operation, said Jennifer de Haro, a RAICES immigration attorney. Many of the families found it difficult to come up with that much money, said de Haro, who had initially counseled about 15 of those families.
“Two of the people I spoke with had children with medical issues that required them to visit doctors in Dallas,” de Haro said. “I was told that one man who had been detained had a heart condition. This has negative effects for the entire community when the government comes in like that. It disrupts things so much.”
‘Will people have to move?’
The local contingent organized by United Fort Worth marched and rallied in Paris on Sept. 2, but was just one of the organizations trying to help families disrupted by the immigration sweep. The needs are overwhelming, said Betsy Prado, who works with food distribution and outreach in her father’s Paris church, First Baptist En Espanol.
“Some of the kids are too young to understand what’s going on,” Prado said. “All they know is that someone took their dad, their brother, their uncle, and they don’t know why. They just know their dad went to work and didn’t come back. Some are losing sleep and they are frightened.”
Some of the adults are also frightened because of the risk of deportation, said Beto Prado, First Baptist pastor. Those who have posted immigration bonds or have otherwise been released now have approaching court dates, Beto said.
“That’s my concern for the community,” Prado said. “Will people have to move? These are established communities. There are organizations raising money and it’s encouraging to see that help originates from outside the community. But we have provisions for about another month. I don’t know how long we can continue.”
Volunteers with United Fort Worth are organizing another trip to Paris and have set up a page to raise funds for families in need, Whittier said.