ICE Arrests Hundreds in Mississippi Raids Targeting Immigrant Workers
- 7, 2019
Federal agents raided several companies across Mississippi on Wednesday, rounding up hundreds of immigrant workers in what federal officials said might be the largest worksite enforcement action ever in a single state.
In a coordinated sting, more than 600 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up at the sites with federal warrants that allowed them to search the premises. About 680 immigrants who were believed to be working without legal documentation were apprehended and taken away on buses.
Lindsay Williams, a spokesman for the agency, said the federal agents executed the search warrants in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The operation was the culmination of a yearlong investigation, and it unfolded just hours before President Trump — who has made illegal immigration a trademark issue and who recently vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants — arrived in El Paso, a majority Latino city on the Mexico border where 22 people were killed over the weekend in an attack that federal authorities are investigating as an act of domestic terrorism.
[The raids left some children without a parent at home. “Government, please show some heart,” one 11-year-old begged.]
The raids were by far the largest to occur since Mr. Trump took office, and the biggest since December 2006, when more than 1,200 people were swept up in a raid at several units of a meat processing company.
Three poultry plants that are owned and operated by Peco Foods in three towns, and a fourth run by Koch Foods, in Morton, Miss., were among the facilities raided on Wednesday.
Mayor William Truly of Canton told the local ABC affiliate that federal agents had identified workers who were in the country illegally and rounded them up, put them in buses and took them away.
Three buses took migrants who had been arrested at Koch Foods to a National Guard base.
One woman who said she was a lead worker at the Koch Foods plant told a local television station, WAPT, that ICE agents had come into the building and ordered employees to line up and walk outside.
“That’s all our workers — half of the plant!” she said of the detained workers. “I just know it’s messed up because we’ve got to think about the kids and everything. I mean, who’s going to get their kids?”
The woman, who was not identified, said multiple buses had already left the area with detained workers.
Other women said in a video posted on social media that they were worried about a 12-year-old girl whose mother was being questioned by officers inside the plant. A girl could be heard wailing in the background. A girl no more than three feet tall slowly waddled toward the metal gate to look, with other workers, at those who were being detained.
Photographs and videos showed groups of people waving as buses drove away. Others wiped tears away or held on to a metal gate outside of the plant in Morton, Miss., as they watched officers carry out the operation.
Men and women walked in boots with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. Other detained employees sat on the grass or near large, white silos on the company property.
“We have officially returned to the era of massive worksite raids,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization. “The net result will be immigrant workers pushed further underground, families separated and local economies decimated. The American worker and their family lose their neighbors, fellow church members and friends.”
“The American economy loses a work force that is contributing in more ways than we can imagine,” he continued. “And, along the way, we are no safer as immigrant communities are pushed further from law enforcement.”
The poultry industry has long relied on immigrant labor to do the physically taxing work of cutting, cleaning, deboning and packing chicken in cold, sometimes dangerous conditions.
In statements, both poultry processors said they utilized E-Verify, a government electronic system designed to confirm that employees are eligible to work in the United States.
Immigrants eager for work traditionally have used fake Social Security numbers and green cards to secure jobs. But those do not pass E-Verify. Thus, in recent years, more immigrants have resorted to using the identities of legal United States residents, the identities of dead citizens, or the Social Security numbers of their American-born children to pass the electronic verification program.
After The New York Times revealed last December that Mr. Trump’s golf resorts employed undocumented immigrants, the Trump Organization terminated dozens of workers and said that it had begun to use E-Verify. The company has faced no penalties for hiring housekeepers, groundskeepers and cooks who used phony documents to obtain employment, some with the knowledge of at least one manager in New Jersey.
Peco Foods, which is based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is described on its website as a “fully integrated grower, processor and marketer” of poultry products. The 80-year-old company is family-owned, according to the website.
In a statement, the company confirmed that three of its facilities in Mississippi — in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol — had been raided. It said it had adhered to all local, state and federal laws and had used E-Verify to screen its new hires.
Koch Foods, one of the country’s largest poultry processors with more than $3 billion in annual sales and with plants around the country, employs more than 10,000 people. The company was subjected to immigration enforcement action in 2007.
“The chicken industry uses every tool in the toolbox, including E-Verify, to help ensure a legal work force,” said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, whose members include Koch Foods. “And we’ve been strong advocates before Congress to make those tools even stronger.”
The coordinated sweeps on Wednesday were reminiscent of large-scale raids on meatpacking plants that occurred during the administration of President George W. Bush.
In one prominent case in Postville, Iowa, in May 2008, agents backed by air and ground support descended on a kosher meat processing plant called Agriprocessors and arrested nearly 400 workers.
Last June, about 150 workers were arrested during a raid on a gardening and landscaping company in Ohio. And in April last year, immigration agents detained nearly 100 workers at a meatpacking plant in Morristown, Tenn. The owner of that facility was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
“It’s all part of a concerted effort by this administration to target not only the individuals in the United States unlawfully but also the companies that are employing them,” said Dawn Lurie, a lawyer who specializes in immigration compliance.
Last month, ICE agents converged on thousands of companies across the country to notify them that they had to submit hiring records so authorities could confirm that their employees were eligible to work in the United States. Often, those audits result in civil fines levied against the companies and the loss of a significant number of workers.
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