ICE raids at Mississippi food processing plants net 680 illegal immigrants

August 8, 2019

Weeks after President Trump threatened to begin deporting large numbers of illegal migrants, he followed through on his word.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rounded up 680 illegal immigrants in Mississippi on Wednesday, in the largest single workplace raid in 11 years and “the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history.”

“These are not victimless crimes,” an ICE official said. “Illegal workers create vulnerabilities in the marketplace…as well as stealing the identities of legal U.S. workers, citizens, and legal immigrants alike, who must suffer the long-lasting consequences of their stolen identities.”

Massive enforcement sweep

The joint operation between ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi was preceded by a year-long investigation. The raids swept through seven food processing plants in Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Morton, Pelahatchie and Sebastapol.

Agents asked workers at the targeted sites to provide papers proving their legal status. Those who could not were arrested, while legal workers were allowed to leave the plants after undergoing a physical search. Some illegal immigrants tried to escape on foot, but were ultimately stopped by ICE agents who surrounded the facilities’ perimeters.

At a plant owned by Koch Foods, Inc. in Morton, detained workers filled up three buses and were taken to a hangar at the Mississippi National Guard base in Flowood, Mississippi, for processing. Some of the arrested migrants have already been given deportation orders and will be swiftly forced to leave the country. Others will be processed in immigration court and may be released after a review, while others will face criminal prosecution.

“All the unlawfully present foreign nationals arrested Wednesday are being interviewed by ICE staff to record any potential mitigating humanitarian situations,” ICE said in a statement. “Based on these interviews, and consideration of their criminality and prior immigration history, ICE is determining on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of the circumstances which individuals will be detained and which persons may be released from custody at present.”

Koch Foods, which is not affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers, is one of the largest poultry companies in the U.S. with an estimated $3.2 billion in revenue. ICE agents seized business records from the plants and also arrested some management personnel.

Biggest raid in a decade

Trump threatened to deport “millions” of illegal immigrants earlier this summer, but those warnings did not materialize in the form of large-scale operations across the country. In general, substantial workplace raids have been relatively infrequent under the Trump administration. Last year, however, ICE conducted sweeps at a landscaping company in Ohio and a meatpacking facility in Tennessee, whose owner was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Chris Heck, resident agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit in Jackson, said. “This is a very large worksite operation.”

There haven’t been raids this large conducted since the George W. Bush administration, when nearly 400 workers were ensnared in a 2008 raid on a meatpacking plant in Iowa. Raids like this one target illegal workers as well as their employers, an ICE official said. Illegal workers often steal the identities of American workers, “which can profoundly damage for years the identity-theft victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life,” an ICE statement noted. But illegal workers can also be victimized by employers looking to exploit them for cheap labor.

“We are first and foremost a nation of laws and the Rule of Law is the bedrock, the very foundation, of our great country. I heard someone say that a country without borders is not a country at all and while I agree with that, I would also add that without law there is no order. Without the enforcement of law, there is no justice,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst said in the aftermath of the ICE sweep.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.