Back in May, agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a raid at a cement plant in the small town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Besides capturing 32 men, the raid has also left the residents and the churches in the town divided.
"This whole immigration thing has been an abstraction," State Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, told The New York Times. "It's been on TV and in the newspapers. And all of a sudden it's here in our town. Relationships and everything are all of a sudden up for grabs."
As the debate over immigration continues in this town of 8,500, there are other signs that the subject has also widened the gap among local believers as well.
For example, a group of churches recently raised $80,000 to help detainees' families with rent, utilities, and legal fees. However, evangelical churches were noticeably absent from the donor roll.
Rev. Trey Hegar is the pastor of the local First Presbyterian Church. The church has strived to help the detained men and their families. He told the Times the town's evangelical pastors are compassionate individuals, "but to see nothing, after something like this in their backyards — I'm shocked."
"The nationalistic politics and theology goes hand in hand now," Hegar said. "It drives me crazy when we don't practice what Jesus preaches because of the mix of religion and national politics."
Jim Erwin, the pastor of Wellspring Evangelical Free Church, said no one from the other churches had suggested he raise money; if they had, he said, he might have chipped in.
But Erwin added that he believed the detentions of illegal immigrants were justified.
"Because they're breaking the law, I recognize the authorities do need to come in and do that," he told the Times.
But as the Times reported, not even members of the same church agree on what should be done to solve the immigration problem.
"I agree with our president: our borders, we can't open it to everybody," Rusty King, First Presbyterian's custodian told the newspaper. "We've got enough poor people here in Iowa that need help. I work three jobs and still live paycheck to paycheck."
Gary Crawford, the owner of a local business, recalled on the Sunday after the ICE raid, he heard Father Paul Connolly of the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, with the detained men in mind, devote his homily to the Good Samaritan, the exemplar of caring for strangers.
"All of us were immigrants at one time," the priest said.
The Times reports no charges have been filed against the owners of the Midwest Precast Concrete plant in Mount Pleasant.
The newspaper also reported that 23 of the 32 men arrested in the raid have been released on bond, three have been deported and five remain in jail facing criminal charges.