Mississippi residents have rallied around terrified children left with no parents while migrants locked themselves in their homes for fear of being arrested, a day after the United States’ largest immigration raid in a decade.
Wednesday’s raid consisted of 600 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents fanning out across factories operated by five companies, surrounding the perimeters to prevent workers from fleeing.
Describing the raid on Twitter, ICE wrote that hundreds of “removable aliens” were “unlawfully working at the plants” and had been detained.
A total of 680 people were arrested and taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations, but more than 300 had been released by Thursday morning (local time) with notices to appear before immigration judges, said ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox.
Mr Cox said that those released were let go due to “humanitarian factors”.
Officials added that others would be released if they were pregnant, had small children at home, or had serious health problems.
Those released included 18 juveniles, with the youngest being 14 years old, said Jere Miles, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in New Orleans.
But of those released may not be able to resume their old jobs because the Federal Government alleges they are in the US illegally.
Mississippi’s Republican Governor Phil Bryant commended ICE for the arrests, tweeting that anyone in the country illegally has to “bear the responsibility of that federal violation”, but more than 100 local civil rights activists, union organisers and clergy members denounced the raid.
The state is the US’s fifth-largest chicken producing state and the region’s tough processing jobs have mainly been filled by Latino immigrants eager to take whatever work they can get.
US agents separate children from parents
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Girl begs for her father’s release after ICE raid.ABC NEWS
A small group seeking information about immigrants caught up in the raids gathered Thursday morning outside one of the targeted companies: the Koch Foods plant in Morton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people about 65 kilometres east of the capital of Jackson.
“The children are scared,” said Ronaldo Tomas, who identified himself as a worker at another Koch Foods plant in town that wasn’t raided.
Mr Tomas, speaking in Spanish, said he has a cousin with two children who was detained in one of the raids.
There were other employees, including Domingo Candelaria, who could show they were in the country legally were allowed to leave the plant after agents searched the trunks of their vehicles.
“It was a sad situation inside,” Mr Candelaria said.
Gabriela Rosales, a six-year resident of Morton who knows some of those detained, said she understands that “there’s a process and a law” for those living in the country illegally.
“But the thing that they [ICE] did is devastating,” she said.
“It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time.”
Raids were ‘racially neutral’: ICE
Space to detain workers was running out, even overnight, because the number of people in custody is hovering near all-time highs.
ICE has been housing thousands more than its budgeted capacity of 45,274 people, mostly due to an unprecedented surge of Central American families arriving at the Mexican border.
The raids happened just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino border city where a man linked to an online screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 people dead.
Matthew Albence, ICE acting director, said that the raids could be the largest-ever workplace operation in any single state.
When asked about their coinciding with Mr Trump’s visit to El Paso, Mr Albence responded: “This is a long-term operation that’s been going on.”
He said the raids were “racially neutral” and based on evidence of illegal residency.
Combatting illegal immigration has become the centrepiece of the Trump administration and the centre of Mr Trump’s 2020 election campaign.
There were 10.5 million unauthorised immigrants in the US in 2017 representing 3.2 per cent of its total population, according to the think tank Pew Research Centre.
Koch Foods, one of the country’s largest poultry producers based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, said in a statement on Thursday that it follows strict procedures to make sure full-time employees are eligible to work in the country.
‘Their doors are locked. They won’t answer their doors’
Mike O’Brien, priest of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, said he waited outside the Peco Foods plant in the city until 4:00am Thursday for workers returning by bus.
Mr O’Brien said he visited a number of parishioners whose relatives had been arrested.
He said he also drove home a person who had hidden from authorities inside the plant.
“The people are all afraid,” he said.
Children whose parents were detained were being cared for by other family members and friends, Mr O’Brien said.
Mississippi’s Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee said more than 150 students were absent on Thursday from the 4,000-student district, including a number of students in Morton, where the enrolment is about 30 per cent Latino.
School officials were reportedly trying to coax parents into letting their children return through phone calls and home visits.
Mr McGee said some longtime teachers told him that Wednesday, “was by far the worst day they have ever spent as educators”.
The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services is investigating whether any immigrant children are in need of foster care while their parents are in detention, spokesperson Lea Ann Brandon said.