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Children are victims of Wednesday’s ICE raids; leaders speak out



Workers exit a Koch Foods Inc. processing plant as U.S. immigration officials conducted a raid in Morton, Miss., Aug. 7, 2019. Photo from the Voice of America website.

One of the consequences of Wednesday’s immigration raids in Mississippi is that the children of those detained came home from their first day of school to find their parents gone.

On August 7, about 600 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carried out the largest single-state raids in the country’s history, targeting seven food processing plants known to hire undocumented immigrants in six cities. As a result of what authorities say was a year-long investigation, agents detained approximately 680 individuals, which reportedly included some from the plants’ management. Almost all were Hispanic.

The raids left schools, concerned neighbors and the state’s child welfare services scrambling to care for the children of the adults arrested.

“What I saw was traumatic, painful,” Elizabeth Iraheta told NBC News. Iraheta witnessed a raid where she works in Morton. “I’m thinking of the separated families, fathers and mothers deported, children left alone because their parents were arrested.”

The agency said it took some precautions for families, NBC reported, but as one ICE official said, “We are a law enforcement agency, not a social services agency.” Advance notice to welfare agencies or schools could have botched the plan.

President Donald Trump echoed those concerns yesterday.

“The reason is because you have to go in, you can’t let anybody know, otherwise when you get there, nobody will be there,” Trump said.

“But I want people to know that if they come into the United States illegally, they are getting out. They’re gonna be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent.”

The raids saw people improvising to care for the children, many of whom are undoubtedly U.S. citizens. One school district instructed bus drivers to ensure a parent or a guardian was at the stops before dropping off kids. Children without parents at home were taken back to their schools to spend the night, NBC reported.

ICE spokespersons told NBC that they notified schools as soon as the raids began, letting them know that some students could be affected.

The agency released some 270 immigrants within one day as they determined that children had been left alone. About 30 people were never taken into custody because they had children under five years old at home. Some of those released included pregnant women and juveniles.

All of the undocumented immigrants released will have hearings with immigration judges to determine their future status. Those not released were moved to detention facilities within the state or in Louisiana.

Everyone arrested was given the opportunity to make a phone call, and some of those were ostensibly used to secure childcare.

ICE did not inform the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services or ensure that any children were in the hands of a parent or guardian.

“We are not a humanitarian agency,” one of the ICE spokespeople said.

Mississippi responds

Many Mississippians urged people to help, encouraging attorneys to provide pro bono legal assistance and others to donate money, food and other necessities to the families of those detained.

“I don’t see illegals. I don’t see bad people,” Luis Espinoza, an organizer with Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, told the Voice of America. “It is only families — fathers, mothers who want something better for their kids. So, they come here and just work. They are not criminals.”

Politicians and community leaders were quick to weigh in on the raids.

Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s Republican governor, spoke out on Twitter. “If you are here illegally violating federal laws, you have to bear the responsibility of that federal violation,” he wrote. “I think @ICEgov is doing a great job, and I think @USAttyHurst is doing exactly what he should be doing, and I commend him for it.”

U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, spokesman for the Department of Justice at a news conference, also tweeted a comment Thursday: “@ICEgov @DHSgov conducted yesterday’s operation w/ respect & dignity for fellow man/woman. HSI procedures ensured child/parent were united afterwards We are unaware of any child presently w/o a parent as a result of this operation.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba was among those condemning the raids.

Lumumba issued a statement saying, “The ICE raids are both dehumanizing and ineffective as a tactic for protecting citizens from potential harm. These raids will only further alienate communities from law enforcement, disrupt community policing efforts, and cause law enforcement to forfeit credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve. I’m calling upon faith institutions in our community to become sanctuaries for our immigrant neighbors and protect them from potential harm. The City of Jackson strongly objects to the Trump administration’s ICE raids.”

The Mississippi Center for Justice also issued a statement. “Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers were loaded onto buses in plastic handcuffs while children, with their new backpacks and school supplies, returned from their first day of school, only to find their loved ones gone. These raids irreversibly harmed families, schools, communities, and our state.

“… We are coordinating a rapid response legal team to help community members locate detained loved ones, provide immigration legal assistance to those now facing removal, and ensure the care of children whose parents or guardians have been imprisoned,” the MCJ added. “Central to the rule of law are the constitutional principles of due process and access to counsel, and we are committed to ensuring these protections for all Mississippians, regardless of immigration status.”

The Pew Research Center estimates there are some 20,000 undocumented immigrants in Mississippi, up from about 10,000 in 1995. The immigrants account for less than 1 percent of state’s total population of about 3 million.

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