Democrats spurred on by heartbreaking images of immigrant children crying for their parents are demanding explanations from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security about how they carried out sweeping immigration raids in Mississippi.
Some 680 workers at food-processing plants in Mississippi were arrested in the coordinated actions on Wednesday. Schools were not notified until afternoon, and child protective services officials told reporters they were not informed.
“We are concerned by reports that these enforcement actions on August 7, 2019, left many children–on their first day of school–separated from their parents and terrified because they did not know where their parents were taken and detained,” wrote Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Shocked observers accused federal officials of cruelty, but authorities hailed the efforts.
“I commend these federal agents, our state and local law enforcement partners, and our federal prosecutors for their professionalism and dedication to ensure that those who violate our laws are held accountable,” said Mike Hurst, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, in the aftermath of the sweeps.
“We are a nation of laws, and we will remain so by continuing to enforce our laws and ensuring that justice is done,” Hurst said.
Yet the lawmakers noted that none of the operators of the plants appeared to have suffered any consequences yet.
“It appears that these DOJ and ICE enforcement actions are targeting only immigrant workers and not their employers,” the Democrats wrote.
In the wake of the raids, members of the targeted communities organized efforts to care for and feed the stranded children, whose pleas for their mothers and fathers soon went viral in news video clips.
Federal officials said Thursday that about 300 detained migrants had been released, many on “humanitarian” grounds, specifically in cases where small children had no parent available. “Based on these procedures, it is believed that all children were with at least one of their parents as of last night,” a statement said.
About 270 of the arrested migrants were freed without being charged criminally. Officials did not explain why, but entering the country improperly is a misdemeanor offense, and over-staying a visa is not a crime under the law.
The lawmakers want to know what the raids cost, how many minors and U.S. citizens were hauled in, details on the separations of parents from their children, and whether the employers will also face penalties.
They point out that one of the companies that had several plants raided, Koch Foods, paid a $3.75 million fine in 2018 to settle discrimination charges based on race, sex and national origin brought by Latino workers.
“We are alarmed by the potential serious chilling effect of these enforcement actions close in time to these workers vindicating their rights to a safe working environment,” they wrote.
The gave Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan until Aug. 23 to provide answers and to brief lawmakers.
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