A small crowd waited in front of the National Guard Armory in Russellville Thursday.
Others compulsively checked their phones, hoping for a scrap of information about the federal raid that led friends and family to be detained inside the armory.
But mostly, they just waited for hour after hour.
Wendy Ramirez, of Bean Station, said her brother-in-law and father-in-law were inside the armory. They had been detained as part of a raid on Southerastern Provision, a meat packing plant in Bean Station.
She said her family was praying her father-in-law was not deported.
“It feels sad,” she said. “He’s got kids here. He’s got grandkids. It’s really sad. We don’t want him deported.”
Federal agents raided the meat packing plant Thursday morning and detained an unknown amount of illegal immigrants from the facility. The National Guard Armory in Russellville served as a staging area for with law enforcement vehicles and white vans with dark-tinted windows coming in and out of the armory most of the day.
The operation was performed by the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, with the assistance of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Ramirez, who said she lives about three minutes away from the meat packing plant, said the raid started around 9 a.m. Thursday.
She said she looked outside and saw police helicopters flying overhead.
“I saw the police helicopters over the slaughterhouse,” she said. “There were three of them.”
She tried driving to Southeastern Provision, but the road was blocked by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. She tried another route and found it blocked as well, and tried talking to THP patrolman.
“I said, ‘I’ve got loved ones in there, can you tell me anything about them?’ He said, ‘No, we’re not allowed to give any details right now,’” she said.
Rumors swirled Thursday across the Lakeway Area with uncofrmed reports of raids occurring at other businesses across the area.
HOLA Lakeway posted on it’s Facebook page that immigration officials were in the area and urged people to go to local churches.
St. Patrick Catholic Church posted on its Facebook Thursday that the parish center was open for anyone not feeling safe to go home and provided dinner to familes as well.
KC Alvarado, chairwoman of HOLA Lakewway, said the Tennessee Immigration Rights Council came from Nashville Thursday to help with legal efforts. She said the council along with local attorneys have set up a clinic today at St. Patrick Catholic Church to help with any legalities and would be at the church all day.
Alvarado said the tension and anxiety are continuing on Friday.
“There’s still a lot of fear,” she said.
She said many Hispanics were afraid to drive Thursday even to pick up their children.
She added businesses in the Lakeway Area were affected because they did not have enough workers after many Hispanic workers left.
Alvarado said she would not be surprised if some businesses were closed today because of worker shortage. She said she would also not be surprised if there were a lot of Hispanic students absent from school on Friday.
In Grainger County, school director Edwin Jarnagin said they were on Spring Break, so had no effects. But, in Hamblen County, the school systems did feel an impact – as rumors of a wider roundup swirled.
Dr. Jeff Perry, Hamblen County school superintendent, said there were some incidents of loved ones not being able to come to school and pick up children. In some cases, children came home to empty homes.
“We did have some incidents where parents were not home and we had to make other arrangements,” Perry said.
The school system opened up Russellville Elementary School until 12:30 a.m. Friday morning and it served as a staging area for relatives who were waiting the outcome at the armory, he said.
He said there were attorneys present to help relatives navigate through the legal processes of either getting temporary custody of children or to answer to any legal questions regarding immigration status.
Perry said school bus drivers were also notified to make sure students arrived home to a family member.
He said, in the end, all students made it home safely or were able to be united with a family member.
“You don’t always plan for specific events like this, but you plan for events like this,” Perry said.