By: Tarik Johnson
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported detaining approximately 680 people suspected of being in the country illegally in the largest single state worksite enforcement action. In cooperation with U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi’s Michael Hurst, ICE raided seven chicken processing plants in Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Morton, Pelahatchie, and Sebastopol. Upwards of 600 ICE agents with federal warrants, surrounded the perimeters of each plant, capturing some workers that tried to flee on foot and asking the workers inside for identification. Domingo Candelaria and other workers who could show they were in the country legally, were allowed to leave the plant after agents searched the trunks of their vehicles.
In Morton, 40 miles east of Jackson, workers filled three buses, two for men and one for women at a Koch Foods Inc. plant. Workers had their wrists tied with plastic bands and were told to deposit personal belongings in clear plastic bags. Agents collected the bags before they boarded buses. Mayor William Truly of Canton told the local ABC affiliate that “Those who were arrested are being processed and they are being given their due process.” One woman who said she was a lead worker at the Koch Foods plant exclaimed, “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?” Matthew Albence, Acting Director of ICE said the children would be sent to live with relatives or with other families, according to AFP news agency. Some were taken to a local gym by neighbours after coming home from school to find their parents gone.
Mississippi is the nation's fifth-largest chicken producing state and the plants' tough processing jobs have mainly been filled by Latino immigrants eager to take whatever work they can get. Chicken plants dominate the economies of Morton and other small towns east of Jackson. Activists and labor unions have long accused the poultry industry of abusing undocumented workers who can't appeal to the federal government for protection. Based in Park Ridge, Illinois, Koch is one of the largest poultry producers in the U.S., with operations in Mississippi and five other states.
“The execution of federal search warrants today was simply about enforcing the rule of law in our state and throughout our great country,” said Michael Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, in a statement. “I commend these federal agents, our state and local law enforcement partners, and our federal prosecutors for their professionalism and dedication to ensure that those who violate our laws are held accountable. We are a nation of laws, and we will remain so by continuing to enforce our laws and ensuring that justice is done," said U.S. Attorney Hurst.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum an advocacy organization, told the New York Times, “We have officially returned to the era of massive worksite raids. 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.”