Federal officials said what happens to the nearly 680 people taken into custody in Mississippi by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The raid was the largest U.S. workplace immigration sting in nearly a decade, according to the Associated Press.
ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi said Thursday that about 300 people were released from custody Wednesday night.
About thirty of those were released on humanitarian grounds at the sites where they were initially encountered, and the other 270 were released after being processed at a National Guard base in Pearl.
The arrests came after a more than year-long investigation by ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Officials executed search warrants Thursday at seven food processing plants in six towns near Jackson: Morton, Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Pelahatchie and Sebastopol.
“If you violate federal law, there will be consequences,” U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said.
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence and Hurst offered four scenarios for those in custody during a press conference Wednesday afternoon:
▪ Some will be prosecuted criminally.
▪ Some previously appeared before an immigration judge and have been ordered to leave from the country. They did not leave. Those people will be deported quickly.
▪ Some will not be placed in ICE detention due to humanitarian concerns. They will be allowed to go home but will still be required to appear before an immigration judge.
▪ The remainder will be detained at an ICE facility as they await an appearance before an immigration judge. The judge will then decide if a person is allowed to remain in the country.
ICE staff conducted interviews of those in custody. The interviews, along with any criminal history and prior immigration history, will be used to determine what happens to each person.
Federal officials finished processing the nearly 680 people Wednesday night.
What about their children?
The detainees were asked at the processing center if they had children who needed to be picked up from school or daycare. ICE allowed those in custody to use cellphones to make childcare arrangements and contact family members. Liaison officers worked with school districts to assist in this process, officials said Thursday.
If both parents of a minor child were custody, one of the parents was released on “humanitarian grounds” and returned to where they were arrested. Single parents also were released, officials said.
“Based on these procedures, it is believed that all children were with at least one of their parents as of last night,” federal officials said.
The Clarion-Ledger reports that Scott County schools Superintendent Tony McGee said, as of Wednesday afternoon, he knew of at least six families in the district that had a parent caught up in the raids. The students range from kindergarten to high school. He expected the number to increase.
Those who are released will be placed on an ankle monitor as they await their appearance in immigration court, Albence said Wednesday.
“It’s just as in any other investigation or arrest made by state or local law enforcement,” Albence said. “Our arrest is the front end of the process.”
Lea Anne Brandon, a Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) spokesperson, told the Clarion-Ledger Thursday that ICE did not warn them of the Wednesday’s raids beforehand. As of Thursday morning, ICE had not contacted the state agency. MDCPS said it did not know how many children were affected by the raids but estimates that it could see “hundreds to more than a thousand” impacted.
Where are the detention centers?
In a joint press release by ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Wednesday, the detention facility in Jena, Louisiana, is mentioned as a destination for all those who will be detained.
Called the LaSalle ICE Processing Center, it is one of the largest in the country with an average daily population of 1,200. It holds men and women, according to data provided by ICE.
Bryan Cox, a spokesperson for ICE, said the detainees could end up at a number of facilities but they will likely end up in Louisiana. The state has another dedicated ICE facility in Pine Prairie.
There are four other facilities in Louisiana that are non-dedicated, meaning the facilities hold both immigrants and criminal U.S. prisoners. They are located in Oberlin, Plain Dealing, Ferriday and Covington.
There are two non-dedicated facilities in Mississippi, at the Adams County Correctional Facility near Natchez and at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, which has an average daily detainee population of 1,000.
“It’s too soon for me to say,” Cox said. “In general, they are going to go to Louisiana.”
If there are children who are without parents, people are required by state law to contact Mississippi Child Protective Services (“CPS”) at 1-800-222-8000, federal officials said.
A 24-hour toll-free detainee locator hotline is available for family members of those arrested in this operation to get information on detention location and status as well as the removal process. This hotline operates in English and Spanish. The phone number is 1-855-479-0502.