U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are seen after executing search warrants and making arrests Aug. 7 at an agricultural processing facility in Canton, Miss. CNS photo/Immigration and Customs Enforcement handout via Reuters
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are seen after executing search warrants and making arrests Aug. 7 at an agricultural processing facility in Canton, Miss. CNS photo/Immigration and Customs Enforcement handout via Reuters

JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi's Catholic bishops have joined with the state's Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops in condemning the Trump administration's recent raid on seven food processing plants in the state to round up workers in the country illegally.

Such raids "only serve to ... cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities," the religious leaders said in statement quoting Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, from a July letter he sent to President Donald Trump.

"We, the undersigned, condemn such an approach, which, as he (Cardinal DiNardo) rightly states, 'has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the United States,'" they said.

Signing the statement were Catholic Bishops Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson and Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi; Episcopal Bishop Brian R. Seage of Mississippi; Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church; and Bishop H. Julian Gordy, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Southeastern Synod.

In what is the biggest sweep in a decade, ICE arrested and detained nearly 680 people Aug. 7. About 300 were released that evening; another 380 people remained in custody days later.

"These are not new laws, nor is the enforcement of them new," said ICE's acting director, Matt Albence. "The arrests were the result of a yearlong criminal investigation. And the arrests and warrants that were executed today are just another step in that investigation."

He said the employers could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be probed for tax, document and wage fraud, Albence said.

Investigators told The New York Post daily newspaper that six of the seven processing plants were "willfully and unlawfully employing illegal aliens"; many of the workers used false names and had fake Social Security numbers, according to the newspaper.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Aug. 11, Albence acknowledged the timing of the sweep "was unfortunate," coming just days after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where the alleged shooter said he was targeting Hispanics.

In their joint statement, the Mississippi bishops wrote: "To say that immigration reform is a contentious and complex topic would be an understatement."

"As Christians, within any disagreement we should all be held together by our baptismal promises. Our baptism, regardless of denomination calls us to unity in Jesus Christ," they said. "We are his body and, therefore, called to act in love as a unified community for our churches and for the common good of our local communities and nation."

They also said their churches stand ready to assist immigrants with their immediate needs following the ICE raid.

"We can stand in solidarity to provide solace, material assistance, and strength for the separated and traumatized children, parents and families," the bishops said. "Of course, we are committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation's immigration system, but there is an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis."

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Jackson was directly assisting families and also was accepting donations for its outreach at https://catholiccharitiesjackson.org.