Mississippi Communities Still In Shock Following ICE Raids And Arrests

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 9, 2019 5:43 pm
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(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Free them all.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Free them all.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Free them all.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Free them all.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Stop the raids.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stop the raids.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Stop the raids.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Communities are still in shock in Mississippi following the arrest of some 680 people this week for suspected immigration violations. Federal authorities made the arrests at food processing plants across the state. About 300 of the people who were picked up have been released and given orders to appear before an immigration judge. The rest are being held in detention facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana.

NPR's Greg Allen has been speaking with people in Jackson and Morton, Miss. Raids took place at plants in both cities. He joins us now from Morton.

Hey there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: First, describe the scene in Morton. What's that community like?

ALLEN: Well, you know, Morton's a small town that's really built around food processing. There's some plants in town, and the big one is Koch Foods, which has a big poultry processing plant right in the center of town there. I talked to several people who were there on Wednesday morning when immigration agents descended on the plant, and some people said they took people right out of their cars, left with the doors still hanging open, and the people were taken away on buses.

It's not clear really how many were taken from this plant, but it is operating again, although workers say that it's not up at capacity. There's a help wanted sign on the fence there, and they said they're going to have a job fair next week. But another smaller plant in town did shut down for a time, but it appeared to be operating today as well.

CORNISH: I want to talk a little bit about the audio we heard earlier. What's the reaction been like in these communities? Do people in town support the raids?

ALLEN: Well, certainly in Jackson, you know, there's been a big outcry by elected officials, and the community there are just outraged by this. And you heard some of that in there. In the small towns, you know, it's a mixed bag. I mean, many people in Morton are Hispanic or Latino. Many people work at the plant or have friends and families that do. So they're very unhappy and very upset about this. It's left a whole pall on the town, although I did speak to some people who said they support strong immigration laws, like this local resident, Michael Thompson.

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MICHAEL THOMPSON: I do believe they're up here trying to earn a living and make a living for themselves just like anybody else. I just believe that there ought to be a process of doing it the right way so that this stuff wouldn't have never happened like this.

ALLEN: You know, Michael Thompson said that he has a lot of concern about the children. He thinks it could've been handled in a way that didn't leave them, you know, separated from their parents.

CORNISH: What about those children? A lot of parents were arrested, and their children were at home. How are those children being cared for?

ALLEN: Well, it seems like that most of the people who had dependents at home were released, or at least a certain - a large number were. About 300 people of those who were detained on Wednesday have been released. The immigration officials say they were for humanitarian reasons, and they included many parents with young children.

I spoke to someone today who told me about a friend of hers who was held for 24 hours. She has a 12-year-old daughter who is very distraught. And that daughter is a U.S. citizen. After 24 hours, this mother was released, and it did - they got back together. But now this woman who has a U.S. citizen for a daughter is going to have to go before an immigration judge and make her case to see if she'll be able to remain here. And it'll be some months before a court appearance.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, almost 680 people were detained. It was one of the largest immigration raids ever in a single jurisdiction. So a lot of people are going to need lawyers, right?

ALLEN: That's going to be an overwhelming demand here, for legal aid. You know, so we've got these legal services groups in town, groups who do immigrant rights work, they're all working together to try to mobilize to set up legal aid hotline to refer people to lawyers.

But also, another issue is that people who were released can't go back to work at these poultry plants. And groups in Jackson are coordinating a drive for food and funds to support those in need. They're going to be working with churches to set up counseling and aid centers at these communities where the raids occurred.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Morton.

Thanks so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.