Large ICE Raids In Mississippi
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
U.S. Immigration and Customs agents carried out the largest statewide workplace enforcement operation in U.S. history yesterday. It was a highly coordinated sting. Hundreds of agents surrounded seven food processing plants across Mississippi. About 680 employees, the majority of them Latino, were arrested and transported to a military hangar.
In addition to the arrests, agents also seized company business records. At a press conference yesterday, Mike Hurst, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said this about the operation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE HURST: But while we do welcome folks from other countries, they have to follow our laws. They have to abide by our rules. They have to come here legally, or they shouldn't come here at all.
MARTIN: Jeff Amy of the Associated Press was the first to break this story and is on the line with us this morning. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF AMY: Good morning.
MARTIN: What other details can you share about how these raids went down?
AMY: Well, ICE and federal prosecutors told us yesterday afternoon that they had been investigating these five companies for more than a year after they got tips that they were employing people who didn't have authorization to work in the United States.
Before 8 o'clock in the morning, they surrounded these plants. They detained people who they thought didn't have authorization. They zip-tied their hands behind their backs and loaded them on buses and took them to the Air National Guard hangar that adjoins the Jackson Airport.
They had a very large operation set up inside the hangar. ICE invited the Associated Press in for a look before folks started arriving. They had seven lines, one for each raid, to process people, with fingerprint scanners and printers for documents. They had fans with misters going to try to keep the hangar cool on what had been predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far in Jackson.
MARTIN: You mentioned that the officials - ICE agents - detained people they believed to be in the country working without proper documentation. I mean, presumably, they would have some kind of evidence to demonstrate that - right? - or is there a chance that they swept up people who do have authorization?
AMY: That's unclear to me, honestly. We're hoping that some of this is going to become a little clearer today. Supposedly we're going to get some figures on who was arrested and who might have been let go.
Their position was that they brought in what they called foreign nationals subject to arrest. And they said that they questioned people out of the plants and that they only brought in people who admitted that they were not from the United States and that they believed were in the country illegally.
MARTIN: What does this mean for the companies? This has affected four different food processing plants, chicken processing facilities. Is that right?
AMY: ...Companies operating a total of seven facilities.
MARTIN: So do they stay open?
AMY: Presumably, they're going to stay open. The company that had the most facilities raided - a company called Peco, which is based in Tuscaloosa, Ala. - said that it was facing a potential production disruption, but it was unclear what they really meant by that - whether that was a day or a week or something longer than that.
MARTIN: I mean, the other question - do they get fined, I mean, for employing people who aren't legal to work in the country?
AMY: Federal prosecutors and ICE said that they were investigating the companies for potential criminal violations. They wouldn't go any farther than that. And so that's yet to be seen.
MARTIN: OK. Meanwhile, all these people are waiting in this military hangar to find out what their fate is. Jeff Amy with the Associated Press, we appreciate you sharing your reporting.
AMY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.