U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested hundreds of people Wednesday in a series of coordinated raids on agricultural processing plants in Mississippi. But the massive statewide raid has had devastating consequences for local communities as many of the children of undocumented immigrants arrested in the ICE raids have been left in shock or even temporarily homeless.
ICE agents executed multiple federal criminal search warrants at seven processing plants in at least six cities spread across Mississippi, detaining roughly 680 people whom they alleged were "unlawfully working at the plants," according to a statement released by the agency Wednesday. In an interview with the Associated Press, acting ICE director Matthew Albence said the raids were one of the largest enforcement operations the agency had carried out against undocumented immigrants and likely the largest worksite operation ever conducted in a single state.
But the surprise nature of the sweep left many of those detained unable to make arrangements for their children, meaning hundreds of children across the state came home to empty houses or were left stranded at school waiting to be picked up by parents or caretakers that would never come. While some children have been taken in by extended family members or family friends, a number of others are reported to have been left temporarily homeless as a result of Wednesday's raid.
In Forest, Mississippi, for example, an unspecified number of children whose parents or guardians were detained in Wednesday's raids were housed overnight in a community gym, according to CNN affiliate WJTV. "Children of those arrested in Wednesday's #ICE raids near Forest, MS. are being put up in a local gym tonight by neighbors/strangers," WJTV reporter Alex Love wrote in a tweet. "Many are left scared & crying after coming home from school & being locked out without their parents."
As Love reported, volunteers provided dinner for the children with donated food and drinks despite the fact that many were too emotional to eat. "Most children are still devastated and crying for their parents and can’t eat," Love wrote in a separate follow-up tweet. On Thursday, he reported that all of the children housed overnight in the gym had been returned home or placed in temporary living situations with relatives.
The scope and nature of Wednesday's raids have promoted immigration advocates to accuse ICE of "terrorizing" immigrants and their families. In a statement released Wednesday, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Julia Solórzano claimed the raids were "part of the ongoing war against immigrant families and the communities in which they live."
"These sorts of raids terrorize workers and their families. What's more, today's raids needlessly ripped parents from their children during the first week of school," Solórzano said. "It's also worth noting that immigration agencies that have repeatedly blamed 'overcapacity' detention facilities for the horrific treatment of those imprisoned nevertheless detained more than 600 people today."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also condemned Wednesday's raid and its impact on children. "ICE cruelly swept through Mississippi, leaving children stranded without parents or knowledge of when they could be reunited," the organization said in a tweeted statement. "THIS is what happens when you want to achieve an anti-immigrant agenda no matter the cost." The ACLU has set up a hotline at 978-993-3300 for those who know someone detained in the Mississippi raids.