Miriam Jordan, New York Times, August 7, 2019
Federal agents raided several companies across Mississippi on Wednesday, rounding up hundreds of immigrant workers in what federal officials said might be the largest worksite enforcement action ever in a single state.
In a coordinated sting, more than 600 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up at the sites with federal warrants that allowed them to search the premises. About 680 immigrants who were believed to be working without legal documentation were apprehended and taken away on buses.
Lindsay Williams, a spokesman for the agency, said the federal agents executed the search warrants in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The operation was the culmination of a yearlong investigation, and it unfolded just hours before President Trump — who has made illegal immigration a trademark issue and who recently vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants — arrived in El Paso, a majority Latino city on the Mexico border where 22 people were killed over the weekend in an attack that federal authorities are investigating as an act of domestic terrorism.
Three poultry plants that are owned and operated by Peco Foods in three towns, and a fourth run by Koch Foods, in Morton, Miss., were among the facilities raided on Wednesday.
Three buses took migrants who had been arrested at Koch Foods to a National Guard base.
The poultry industry has long relied on immigrant labor to do the physically taxing work of cutting, cleaning, deboning and packing chicken in cold, sometimes dangerous conditions.
In statements, both poultry processors said they utilized E-Verify, a government electronic system designed to confirm that employees are eligible to work in the United States.
Immigrants eager for work traditionally have used fake Social Security numbers and green cards to secure jobs. But those do not pass E-Verify. Thus, in recent years, more immigrants have resorted to using the identities of legal United States residents, the identities of dead citizens, or the Social Security numbers of their American-born children to pass the electronic verification program.
In a statement, ICE said that everyone who was arrested on Wednesday was being interviewed “to record any potential mitigating humanitarian situations” that would determine who would remain detained and who might be released from custody.
In all cases, the agency said, everyone was being sent to immigration court. For those who had already been ordered to leave the country, they would be processed and deported.