Raid af­ter­math

ICE roundups can have dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for the economies and schools of poul­try towns

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Amy and Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis

MOR­TON, Miss. — Effects of the largest im­mi­gra­tion raid in at least a decade are likely to rip­ple for years through six Mis­sis­sippi small towns that host poul­try plants.

As­tore owner who caters to Latino poul­try plant work­ers fears he will have to close. A school su­per­in­ten­dent is try­ing to re­build trust with the Span­ish­s­peak­ing com­mu­nity. And the CEO of a lo­cal bank says the effects are likely to touch ev­ery busi­ness in her town.

More than 100 civil rights ac­tivists, union or­ga­niz­ers and clergy mem­bers in Mis­sis­sippi de­nounced the raid, but the state’s Repub­li­can Gov. Phil Bryant com­mended fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties for the arrests, tweet­ing that any­one in the coun­try il­le­gally has to “bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity of that fed­eral vi­o­la­tion.”

Of­fi­cials said 680 peo­ple were ini­tially de­tained dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s op­er­a­tion. U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment sent more than 300 of those peo­ple home by dawn Thurs­day, with no­tices to ap­pear be­fore im­mi­gra­tion judges, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.

In the com­ing months, as those peo­ple await hear­ings, they’re un­likely to be able to work, and lo­cal churches are gath­er­ing food and money to pro­vide aid.

Juan Garcia and his wife own Hon­dumex, a gro­cery store and res­tau­rant cater­ing to Lati­nos in down­town Mor­ton, a small town of roughly 3,000 peo­ple about 40 miles east of the capital of Jack­son. Sales have been ter­ri­ble since the raid, Garcia said Thurs­day, sur­rounded by plan­tains, pas­tries and spe­cially butchered meat. Garcia said even those who have been re­leased will have trou­ble be­fore they go to court.

“All the work­ers, the peo­ple that have been taken, they’re not go­ing to be able to spend money,” Garcia said. “They’re not go­ing to be able to work in the plant.”

Garcia said many work­ers at the two raided poul­try plants — Koch Foods and PH Foods — have bought houses. He ques­tions whether they will be able to keep up their mort­gage pay­ments. Garcia said he and his wife also own a res­tau­rant in nearby Philadelph­ia, Mis­sis­sippi, and he may close the Mor­ton store.

“I was think­ing about shut­ting down my busi­ness,” Garcia said. “I don’t think we’re go­ing to be able to stay here.”

Martha Rogers, the chair­man and CEO of the Bank of Mor­ton, also ex­pressed con­cern for the lo­cal econ­omy. Rogers said many Span­ish- speak­ing res­i­dents have be­come cus­tomers of the bank.

“Ev­ery busi­ness in town will be af­fected,” said Rogers, whose fam­ily has owned a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in the bank since the 1950s.

Scott County Su­per­in­ten­dent Tony McGee said more than 150 stu­dents were ab­sent Thurs­day from the 4,100-stu­dent dis­trict, in­clud­ing a num­ber of stu­dents in Mor­ton, where the en­roll­ment is about 30% Latino.

Par­ents are say­ing they’re afraid for their chil­dren to come back to class, McGee said. School of­fi­cials have been mak­ing phone calls and vis­it­ing homes to try to coax the par­ents to let the stu­dents re­turn.

“We’re just try­ing to re­as­sure them that if those kids come to school, we’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make sure they come back to you,” McGee said. “We want those chil­dren at school.”

McGee said some long­time teach­ers told him that Wed­nes­day “was by far the worst day they have ever spent as ed­u­ca­tors.”

ICE didn’t have much space to de­tain work­ers, even overnight, be­cause the num­ber of peo­ple in cus­tody is hov­er­ing near all­time highs. The agency has been hous­ing thou­sands more than its bud­geted ca­pac­ity of 45,274 peo­ple, largely be­cause of an un­prece­dented surge of Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies ar­riv­ing at the Mex­i­can bor­der. Those re­leased in­cluded 18 ju­ve­niles, with the youngest be­ing 14 years old, said Jere Miles, spe­cial agent in charge of ICE’s Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions unit in New Or­leans. Work­ers were as­sessed be­fore they were re­leased, in­clud­ing for whether they had any young chil­dren at home.

The com­pa­nies in­volved could be charged with know­ingly hir­ing work­ers who are in the county il­le­gally and will be scru­ti­nized for tax, doc­u­ment and wage fraud, said Matthew Al­bence, ICE’s act­ing di­rec­tor. Nev­er­the­less, there have his­tor­i­cally been few crim­i­nal con­vic­tions for hir­ing peo­ple with­out doc­u­ments be­cause prose­cu­tors must prove em­ploy­ers know­ingly hired some­one with­out le­gal work au­tho­riza­tion. Em­ploy­ers of­ten say they were fooled by fraud­u­lent doc­u­ments.

From Oc­to­ber 2018 to May there were eight new prose­cu­tions for hir­ing peo­ple work­ing il­le­gally and four new con­vic­tions na­tion­wide. Among those who’ve been sen­tenced to prison are the own­ers of an Iowa meat­pack­ing plant raided in 2008 and a Ten­nessee meat­pack­ing plant raided last year.

Koch Foods, one of the coun­try’s largest poul­try pro­duc­ers based in the Chicago sub­urb of Park Ridge, said in a state­ment Thurs­day that it fol­lows strict pro­ce­dures to make sure full-time em­ploy­ees are el­i­gi­ble to work in the coun­try. The com­pany has an­nounced plans for a job fair this week to be­gin re­plac­ing work­ers lost to the raids.

Gabriela Ros­ales, a sixyear res­i­dent of Mor­ton who knows some of those de­tained, said she un­der­stands that “there’s a process and a law” for those liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. “But the thing that they (ICE) did is dev­as­tat­ing,” she said. “It was very dev­as­tat­ing to see all those kids cry­ing, hav­ing seen their par­ents for the last time.”

“I was think­ing about shut­ting down my busi­ness. I don’t think we’re go­ing to be able to stay here.”

— Juan Garcia, co-owner of a gro­cery store and res­tau­rant in Mor­ton, Mis­sis­sippi, that caters to Lati­nos

JEFF AMY/AP

Juan Garcia, right, waits on a cus­tomer at his busi­ness, Hon­dumex, in down­town Mor­ton, Mis­sis­sippi, on Thurs­day.

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