230 workers deported, hundreds of others remain in limbo two years after Mississippi ICE raids

230 workers deported, hundreds of others remain in limbo two years after Mississippi ICE raids

A new report released on the second anniversary of mass immigration raids that targeted nearly 700 poultry plant workers in Mississippi reveals that while an estimated 230 workers were deported in the aftermath of the sweeps and hundreds of others who are still here continue struggling, no high-level poultry corporation executive faced charges.

An estimated 400 workers are still in limbo to this day, waiting for their day in court “under increasing strains from continued poverty,” findings by the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) said. “Many don’t have access to work permits,” MCJ’s Amelia McGowan told WLOX. “Many don’t have jobs. Many have suffered from COVID.”

The sweeps of seven poultry processing plants in central Mississippi on Aug. 7, 2019 were the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in a decade, tearing working mothers and fathers away from their children “for days, weeks, or even months,” Latino USA reported on the operation’s first anniversary last year. Some were swept up after just dropping off a relative at work. Two years later, the report reveals that many families are struggling with housing and food insecurity as their future status is unknown.

“The nearly 700 people who were arrested were, in many cases, the only economic support for their families,” MCJ said. “Of the people who have been released, most have ankle bracelets and cannot leave to work.” While many workers have U.S. citizens children who are eligible for help, they have not applied, “afraid that doing so will worsen their chances for an immigration status in the future.

“In fact, in a survey that our Community Organizer, Nancy Sanchez, conducted with 100 raids victims in late 2020, she found that only 2 families had enrolled their US citizen children for SNAP and EBT,” MCJ continued. And even though the Biden administration is no longer enforcing the previous administration’s discriminatory public charge rule, “its chilling effect has remained for many—not only in terms of accessing public benefits, but also COVID-related vaccinations and other healthcare.”

Two years later, hundreds have been deported or face possible separation as those in charge at the companies have faced little to no accountability, the report continued. Like Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter wrote in 2019, “feds had probable cause to arrest plant management in Mississippi immigration raids, but didn’t.”

“Meanwhile, still not one senior executive of a poultry corporation targeted by the raids faces a single charge,” MCJ said. “Instead, the local managers of one plant are headed to trial while the owner and the manager of an employee services contractor have pled guilty. The speed with which these cases are processed contrasts sharply with the protracted delay faced by our clients and others like them for individual hearings on their claims, 90% of which still are not scheduled or anticipated to be scheduled two years after the raids.” 

On Monday, workers and advocates from the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity (IAJE) and National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) delivered a letter to the Labor Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting “forbearance from removal and a grant of work authorization” for impacted workers, as well as a call for the administration to return workers deported following the raids. The letter notes the retaliatory nature of the raid, which occurred one year “after one of the companies involved, Koch Foods, paid out $3.75 million to settle an EEOC class-action suit charging the company with sexual harassment, national origin and race discrimination, and retaliation against Latino andIndigenous workers at one of its Mississippi plants.”

“The fear created by these retaliatory raids happening on the heels of this historic labor rights investigation cannot be overstated,” the letter states. “Poultry workers throughout the region are rightfully terrified that their participation in any DOL or EEOC investigation will result in more adverse immigration actions.”

And more tragedy: IAJE and NDLON said that Edgar Lopez, one of the workers targeted and deported following the raids, was kidnapped and killed attempting to return back to his family in the U.S. “Two years later, the pain is ongoing, and the threat of deportation is constant,” an IAJE spokesperson said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “Today, we are asking, demanding, that labor officials take action to repair the harms committed to our immigrant and indigenous communities.  It is a necessary first step.”  

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