U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday, Aug. 7, that its officers had raided seven food processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 mostly Latino workers in what a federal prosecutor described as “the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history.”
The raids, planned months ago, happened just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino city where a man linked to an online screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 people dead in the border city.
Nearly 600 U.S. immigration agents swarmed the plants in Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Morton, Pelahatchie and Sebastopol, surrounding the perimeters to prevent workers from fleeing.
“The execution of federal search warrants today was simply about enforcing the rule of law in our state and throughout our great country,” U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said in a statement. ” I commend these federal agents, our state and local law enforcement partners, and our federal prosecutors for their professionalism and dedication to ensure that those who violate our laws are held accountable.”
In Morton, 40 miles east of Jackson, workers filled three buses—two for men and one for women—at a Koch Foods Inc. plant. They were taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations. About 70 family, friends, and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!” Later, two more buses arrived.
“It was a sad situation inside,” said Domingo Candelaria, a legal resident and Koch worker who said authorities checked employees’ identification documents.
“All the unlawfully present foreign nationals arrested Wednesday are being interviewed by U.S. immigration staff to record any potential mitigating humanitarian situations,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. “Based on these interviews, and consideration of their criminality and prior immigration history, U.S. immigration is determining on a case-by-case basis on the totality of the circumstances, which individuals will be detained and which persons may be released from custody at present.”
Such large roundups were common under President George W. Bush, most notably at a kosher meatpacking plant in tiny Postville, Iowa, in 2008. Nearly 400 workers, mostly Guatemalans, were swept up and jailed as a result of that operation. President Barack Obama avoided them, limiting his workplace immigration efforts to low-profile audits that were done outside of public view.
Koch Foods, based in Park Ridge, Ill., is one of the largest poultry producers in the United States and employs about 13,000 people, with operations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee. Forbes ranks it as the 135th largest privately held company in the United States, with an estimated $3.2 billion in annual revenue.