NATCHEZ, Miss.—When Dan Gibson, a local pastor and bed-and-breakfast owner, kicked off his current mayoral campaign in Natchez, he ran as a community man—someone with connections, someone who knows people. Natchez, a small town of 15,000 set on a bend of the Mississippi River, is the kind of place where news travels fast, and, in late March, Gibson’s phone began ringing nonstop. Alarmed townspeople all had the same concern: In the midst of a pandemic, the federal government was bringing some 200 people from around the country into their otherwise relatively isolated community.

Adams County, where Natchez is the county seat, is best known for its Civil War-era mansions, but it also houses a massive, privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. Over

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