Children are relying on neighbours for food and shelter after their parents were allegedly detained in the largest ICE raid in over a decade, in which more than 680 people were arrested at several Mississippi food processing plants.
WJTV reported on Wednesday that community leaders came together to house the children in a gym for the night. According to the report, children as young as toddlers are relying on neighbours to feed them and pick them up outside their homes after school.
The raids left 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio alone without her father.
“Government please show some heart,” Magdalena cried as she spoke to WJTV. “Let my parent be free and everyone else, please don’t leave the child with cryness and everything.
“I need my dad and mommy,” Magdalena said. “My dad didn’t do anything, he’s not a criminal.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Wednesday that search warrants were issued for seven locations across the state of Mississippi, including the Morton plant of poultry producer Koch Foods Inc., the Associated Press reports.
Authorities said about 600 agents were dispatched across the various plants and surrounded the perimeters to prevent the workers from leaving.
Those arrested were taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations. Approximately 70 family members, friends and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!”
A few hours later, the Associated Press reports that two more buses arrived.
A 13-year-old boy from Guatemala stood next to his father as he tearfully waved goodbye to his mother, who worked at the Koch plant. Other employees attempted to flee on foot but were captured in the parking lot.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Matthew Albence told The Associated Press the arrest count from Wednesday’s raids may make it the largest workplace sting in more than a decade and probably the largest ever for a single state.
A spokesperson later told the outlet that more than 300 people, nearly half of those arrested, had since been released.
Employers may be charged with knowingly hiring workers who were in the country illegally and will be probed for tax, document and wage fraud, Albence said.
He said raids are “racially neutral” and are based only on evidence of illegal residency.
Southern District Attorney Mike Hearst addressed reporters on Wednesday, saying the U.S. is “first and foremost” a nation of laws, and that “without the enforcement of law there is no justice.”
Other companies targeted in the raids include Peco Foods Inc., which has plants in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol; PH Food Inc. in Morton; MP Food Inc. in Pelahatchie and Pearl River Foods Inc. in Carthage.
“We are fully co-operating with the authorities in their investigation and are navigating a potential disruption of operations,” Peco, based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said in a statement. The company added that it participates in E-Verify, a government program to screen new hires for immigration status.
While workplace raids have resumed under U.S. President Donald Trump, the months of preparation they require make them a rare occurrence. Recent major raids took place at a landscaping company last year near Toledo, Ohio, and a meatpacking plant in eastern Tennessee.
— With files from the Associated Press.
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