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Why massive Mississippi ICE raids took communities by surprise

On Thursday, federal immigration officials released 300 of the nearly 700 people arrested Wednesday in Mississippi workplace sweeps believed to be the largest single-state action of the kind in U.S. history. The raids targeted immigrant workers in food processing plants. Jeffrey Brown reports and talks to Hamed Aleaziz of BuzzFeed News and Tony McGee, superintendent of Scott County Public Schools.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump has made immigration a centerpiece of his presidency. And Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has been on the front lines.

    Today, ICE officials released 300 of the nearly 700 people they arrested yesterday in workplace sweeps across Mississippi. Authorities called it the largest single state action of its kind in U.S. history.

    As Jeffrey Brown reports, the raids targeted immigrant workers employed in local food processing plants.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The raids involved more than 600 federal officers in an action authorities said had been in the planning for more than a year, and fell on the second day of school in the area.

    For more on the raids and what has happened since, we turn to Hamed Aleaziz, immigration reporter for BuzzFeed.

    Hamed, thanks for joining us.

    What do we know about why these particular plants were raided?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    Well, ICE officials are unwilling at this point to give any details on the investigation.

    They say simply that this was a matter of a long time coming. This investigation had been going on for nearly a year, and they just simply carried out search warrants and that the investigation is ongoing and they can't say much more.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What happened to those taken into custody? We know that many were already released, but under what conditions?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    Yes, so, at this point, around 300 individuals have been released and given orders to return to immigration court.

    So these individuals will have to appear for their first hearings, perhaps, to begin the deportation proceedings.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And what about those still in custody?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    Those in custody, ICE has yet to tell us where they have been detained. But they do say that these around 370 individuals will be sent to detention centers in Mississippi and Louisiana, where ICE has expanded its detention space.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Is there a sense that these companies knew full well that the workers were illegal and couldn't otherwise fill the jobs with citizens? What do we know?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    We don't know anything at this point. I mean, that's a tough thing about this situation, is, all we have is nearly 700 undocumented — suspected undocumented workers were arrested. And that's all ICE willing to give us at this point.

    We should learn more as the days come, as search warrants and — when the documents surrounding the search warrants become unsealed. But at this point, this — we are left with only the arrests of the unauthorized workers.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    As you said, the government has said this was long in the works.

    There were people who noted that it occurred right after the El Paso shootings. What — have you heard any connection? Or what have you been hearing?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    No, again, they say — ICE officials say that the search warrants were ready to go, they got signed and delivered from a judge, and they executed them simply because they got those warrant; it wasn't at all tied with the shooting.

    Obviously, local advocates and other individuals have said that they were disturbed at the timing, so close to that shooting in El Paso.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So what happens next?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    What happens next is, these communities are going to be left with trying to pick up the pieces.

    Kids potentially have parents in detention, one parent at home. And already today, we're seeing the effects. I have spoken to several school districts who've said that they have seen a pretty substantial drop in school attendance.

    So, at this point, much will be remain to be seen is whether these communities have continued to thrive.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I know you're watching this issue all around the country.

    Is the expectation that there are other ongoing investigations and other very large raids like this coming?

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    Yes, I mean, I think we should expect that.

    The administration has said, starting at the beginning of last year, that they would ramp up these so-called work site enforcement operations. We have already seen some pretty big operations last year, with a couple hundred people being arrested in one facility.

    But this is really just so massive in scope, nearly 700 people. So I think perhaps this could be the beginning of a new era of major work site operations.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, Hamed Aleaziz of BuzzFeed, thank you very much.

  • Hamed Aleaziz:

    Thank you. Appreciate it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And now a closer focus on how Wednesday's raids are affecting the community, especially children with a parent in custody.

    Tony McGee is superintendent of Scott County Public Schools.

    And thank you for joining us.

    So what did happen in the classrooms and after school yesterday?

  • Tony McGee:

    Well, we get notified somewhere around 8:30 yesterday morning that there was a potential ICE raid at some of the processing plants in Scott County.

    We knew from that potentially some of our parents might be those detainees. We had parents started coming into school somewhere around 9:00 to check children out of school. Had some neighbors and friends come to children of school.

    So we started a process of trying to identify maybe those students and those parents that may have been detained.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, what's the situation today? We have heard of a number of people being released from custody, but what's the situation in the schools?

  • Tony McGee:

    We had approximately 154 students across our district, mainly Hispanic and Latino of nature, that were absent from school today.

    And so we have started reaching out to those families to find out about boys and girls, where they're at or how they're doing, just making sure that they know school is a safe place for them, it can be a safe harbor for boys and girls, and that we're here to care for those kids.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What kind of response did you see from volunteers or the larger community?

  • Tony McGee:

    We have had a tremendous response, honestly.

    It started early yesterday once the word got out. People started calling, coming. We have a lot of organizations in Scott County that are deeply rooted into the Hispanic community. And so they came to lend support to our school people, as we try to translate a different language and making sure that everybody felt safe.

    We have had a tremendous amount of support across the nation today, everything from California to New Jersey. People have contacted us about what can they do for — not only in monetary, but what can they do for boys and girls to provide an environment to them?

    On our end, especially in the community and the school, we had no prior knowledge. And so it was — it was pretty — pretty shocking. It was really a tough day emotionally for our educators and students and families.

    As far as local law enforcement, as far as I understand, they had very limited knowledge or no knowledge of it too. So it was one of those things that we found out about it after it happened.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, Superintendent Tony McGee, thank you very much.

  • Tony McGee:

    Yes, sir. Thank you.

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