MORTON, Miss. (AP) – Federal officials say some of the hundreds of workers released after a large-scale immigration raid at Mississippi poultry plants were juveniles, pregnant or sick.
Immigration agents targeted seven food processing facilities Wednesday, arresting 680 people who don’t have legal status to work in the country.
By Thursday, 303 were released with notices to appear before immigration judges. Authorities say they weren’t detained for reasons including “humanitarian” grounds.
Jere Miles is special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans. He says those released included 18 juveniles, with the youngest being 14 years old.
He says each worker’s situation was assessed before they were released, including if the person had young children at home.
More than 100 civil rights activists, union organizers and clergy members in Mississippi are denouncing the largest immigration raid in a decade in the United States.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say 680 people were arrested Wednesday at food processing plants. Some had been released by Thursday.
The Rt. Rev. Brian Seage is a bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. He said Thursday that he was “horrified” parents and children were separated from each other.
Nsombi Lambright of the Mississippi NAACP says she is “embarrassed” and “ashamed” that immigrants were rounded up in Mississippi.
But Republican Gov. Phil Bryant tweeted Wednesday that anyone in the country illegally has to “bear the responsibility of that federal violation.” Bryant commended ICE agents for making the arrests.
The company that owns one of the plants targeted in a Mississippi immigration raid says it follows strict procedures to make sure full-time employees are eligible to work in the country.
Koch Foods is based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge and is one of the largest poultry producers in the country.
On Wednesday, about 600 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents fanned out across plants operated by five companies, arresting nearly 700 people in the largest immigration raid in a decade.
In a statement, Koch said it vets full-time employees with E-Verify, a federal government database employers use to check if employees can work legally in the U.S.
Company spokesman Jim Gilliland says Koch Foods also relies on temporary workers that come through a third-party service, which is tasked with checking those workers’ eligibility.
The terms of the workers’ releases were unclear. It also was unclear whether any of those released were determined to be living in the country legally. ICE officials did not return telephone calls Thursday morning.
Officials had said Wednesday that they would release detainees who met certain conditions, such as pregnant women or those who hadn’t faced immigration proceedings previously.
Karla Vazquez-Elmore is a lawyer representing arrested workers. She said even those not arrested are terrified.