They came to the church and gathered in the pavilion.
They held hands in a circle, their voices filling with emotion each time they said the word. Names were called and the 100 or so gatherers spoke in unison as the names of those who could not be there were called.
“Presente,” they said.
With each name, a candle was lit to remember the person who had been deported or detained and have since not returned to their home in Morristown.
Almost 100 people came to the vigil Saturday at St. Patrick Catholic Church on West Andrew Johnson Highway to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Southeastern Provision LLC in Bean Station.
On April 5, 2018, Internal Revenue Service officers and agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office raided the meatpacking plant as part of an investigation of its owner James Brantley. During the raid, 100 mostly undocumented workers were caught in the roundup.
Ten of those 100 were federally indicted and sentenced but dozens of others were sent to undisclosed locations outside the state and have not returned as they await civil trials, according to vigil organizers
Brantley, the owner of Southeastern Provision LLC, has pleaded guilty to hiring illegal workers and not paying taxes for several years. He faces sentencing next month.
The crowd gathered Saturday to remember their loved ones.
“Here we are again, all of us family, and a year ago all of us were crying,” said Hector Nievasornz, a former Southeastern Provision worker.
On April 5, 2018, workers came to the meatpacking plant, just off Lakeshore Drive, like any other work day.
They walked in and assumed their duties. Then around 9 a.m. IRS and ICE agents came into the plant and rounded up workers. Outside, Tennessee Highway Patrol officers blocked the roadway and a helicopter flew overhead.
The workers were loaded into white vans and taken to the Tennessee National Guard Armory in Russellville.
All morning, a stream of vans came in and out of the armory as the 100 workers were processed.
By noon, a crowd of family members had gathered in front of the armory to hear news about their families. By nightfall, Russellville Elementary School had been opened for loved ones and attorneys and other volunteers descended to give help.
The next day, St. Patrick Catholic Church became the primary staging area for families of those affected by the raid and donations of water, toiletries, food and necessitates started flowing in.
It was the largest raid that led to the detention of undocumented workers in a decade, but since then there have been larger raids in Ohio and Texas.
The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, a non-profit group that fights for immigrant rights, led the small ceremony Saturday at St. Patrick.
Camilla Herrera, of TIRRC, moderated the program, introducing each speaker as the program was given in both Spanish and English.
Hilario Hernandez, another former Southeastern Provision worker, talked about how he would never forget that day. He talked about the reality of being an immigrant in a foreign country.
“This is a hard situation for us because we don’t have stable employment,” he said. “But it’s something we learn from.”
Nievasornz, who had talked about how they were crying a year ago, told his own story. He said when he was young he was afraid to fall in love with a girl for fear she would be taken away.
“Here it is, that day came, and they took her away,” he said.
Colleen Jacobs, youth minister at St. Patrick Catholic Church, spoke about her involvement. She said early on church officials heard about what was going on and it sprang into action, opening its doors for the Hispanic community.
She said she also saw how the community as a whole sprang into action.
“Our community recognized this was a humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Jacobs said she saw the good in people over the next several weeks, but there is still more that needs to be done.
She thanked those who gathered at the event.
“Through your faith and courage, your children will become the next great American generation,” Jacobs said.
The ceremony ended with the reading of names of those who have not yet come home and the lighting of the candles.
Martha Pullido, another former Southeastern Provision worker, said it had been difficult since the raid for her and others.
But, she says there will be better days ahead.
“God gives the hardest battles to the best warriors,” she said.