8, August 2019
US immigration authorities have arrested nearly 700 mostly Latino workers at seven food processing plants across the southern state of Mississippi, the largest workplace raid in at least a decade.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement on Wednesday that the agency detained about 680 people who were working illegally at the plants.
Those arrested were taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations. About 70 family, friends and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!” Later, two more buses arrived.
About 600 ICE agents spread across the plants operated by five companies, surrounding the perimeters to prevent workers from fleeing.
Many of those detained will be transported to an ICE facility in Jena, Louisiana, the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Mississippi, which partnered with ICE, said in a statement.
Some of those detained will be released for “humanitarian reasons” and required to appear in U.S. immigration court, the US Attorney’s Office said.
ICE did not specify the nationalities of the workers arrested, but most are believed to be migrants from Mexico and Central America.
Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that the raids could be the largest-ever workplace operation in any single state. He claimed that the raids are “racially neutral” and based on evidence of illegal residency.
The companies involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, Albence said.
The raids, planned months ago, happened just hours before President Donald Trump visited El Paso, Texas, a majority-Hispanic city near the US-Mexico border where a man linked to a white supremacist group was charged with fatally shooting 22 people.
Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, called the “terrible” raids “another effort to drive Latinos out of Mississippi,” and he blamed Trump for fanning racism with his past incendiary comments about immigrants.
“This is the same thing that Trump is doing at the border with the Border Patrol,” he said, referring to the increased crackdown on migrants coming into the US.
Major immigration raids were common under former President George W. Bush, including one at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2008 that resulted in about 400 arrests. Former President Barack Obama avoided them, limiting workplace immigration efforts to low-profile audits.
Trump resumed workplace raids, but the months of preparation and hefty resources they require make them rare.
Trump has made his hard-line stance on immigration an integral part of his presidency and has promised to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to curb the flow of migrants from Mexico and Central America.