DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Business leaders, community members and law enforcement officials are facing some tough questions after a massive immigration raid in Mississippi. Almost 700 people were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday at seven different food processing facilities. Hundreds have since been released. This was part of a coordinated operation with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.
And I'm joined now by that office's top lawyer, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst. Mr. Hurst, thank you so much for coming on our program this morning.
MIKE HURST: Thank you, David, for having me.
GREENE: I want to start with just the latest. How many people are still detained, and what conditions are they in? And what is happening to them next.
HURST: Yeah, David. So during this enforcement operation, we encountered 680 aliens. And through Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing, they have - they released almost 300 of those individuals back to their communities. And today, I'm told that we still have about 377 detained.
GREENE: Where are they?
HURST: Well, they were shipped down to a immigration facility in Louisiana for processing in the administrative process.
GREENE: And what kind of conditions are they in right now? How are they being detained?
HURST: Well, they're being detained like immigration always detains illegal aliens. They're - I mean, the conditions - I haven't been down there, but the conditions are the conditions that they normally are in.
GREENE: And do you expect them to be released in the same way as these other 300 at some point? Like, are they just going through a process that - and that would be the ultimate conclusion?
HURST: Well, the 300 that were released within the first 24 hours - they were done for humanitarian reasons. Homeland Security Investigations set up a process where when they brought these individuals in, they asked them whether they had small children at home. They gave them access to cellphones to call families or friends. And in these situations, if there were two parents, they allowed one of those parents to return to the site. Or if it's a single parent, they took those individuals back to the sites.
And I have to give credit to these law enforcement officers. Homeland Security Investigations, in this context, went above and beyond what I've ever seen them do, in the sense that they took these individuals back to the sites from where they were originally arrested.
GREENE: I'm glad you brought up children because a lot of people following this story have been very concerned. And I want to play the voice of one 11-year-old girl. Her name's Magdalena Gomez Gregorio. And she was speaking to CBS News.
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MAGDALENA GOMEZ GREGORIO: Government, please put your heart - let my parent be free with everybody else, please. I need my dad and mommy. My dad didn't do nothing. He's not a criminal.
GREENE: Can you say with absolute confidence that there are no children left without parents right now because of this operation?
HURST: Well, let me say before that, as a father of six children, it breaks my heart any time a child is affected by their parent's illegal activities. And we see this all the time as law enforcement, whether it be immigration or tax evasion or bank fraud or drug use. But the laws are the laws, and our job is to enforce those laws. And while this young child's interview is heartbreaking, that's what we have to do.
But to your original question, we - I spoke with the governor of our state late Wednesday night. I spoke with the commissioner of the state's Child Protective Services. As of late Wednesday night, we were - I was personally unaware of any child that was without at least one of their parents as a result of this operation.
GREENE: I want to play another voice here. It's the voice of the mayor of Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, talking to our sister program Here & Now yesterday about how many of these workers got into these jobs.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Many of these people give up their life savings to come over here because they're promised an opportunity, only to be, you know, held under the threat of being sent back after everything that they've worked for is now depleted. And so once you understand that, then you do realize that, yeah, employers need to be held responsible. The employers need to be held responsible for trying to have slave labor. They need to be held responsible for not offering living wages. And so what we are doing are - we're prosecuting the victims in this case.
GREENE: Do you worry that you're prosecuting the victims here?
HURST: No, David, I don't. We have laws on the books, and these individuals have violated those laws. And to address Mayor Lumumba's criticism, we - if you look at the history of the Southern District of Mississippi, we have prosecuted owners. We have prosecuted businesses. We have prosecuted many individuals, not just the individuals who violate the immigration laws by coming to our country illegally. But we also have prosecuted those who harbor, who encourage, who do other things to employ these individuals.
GREENE: Are you going to do that in this case?
HURST: Well, it's an ongoing criminal investigation, so I really can't get into the details of that.
GREENE: But there are laws on the books that would allow you...
HURST: Again, I would point - absolutely. Again, I would point you to the history of this office and our prosecutors.
GREENE: Is there more of this coming? Is this - are we going to see more raids of this scale coming soon in Mississippi and elsewhere?
HURST: Well, I can't speak to operational activities, but I can tell you that as long as these laws are on the books, we're going to enforce them.
GREENE: Are there more businesses like those that were targeted here in Mississippi that are similar in terms of who works there and what their status may be?
HURST: I can't really answer that. I can tell you that as a line prosecutor before United States attorney, we did see this throughout our state. And again, this office has a history of prosecuting those employers for this activity.
GREENE: All right. Mike Hurst is U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Thanks so much for your time this morning. Again, we appreciate it.
HURST: Thank you, David.
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