Mike Hurst said to his knowledge all children were reunited with at least one parent within a day’s period after the ICE raids.
Cam Bonelli, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Immigration officials raided seven food processing plants in Mississippi last week, arresting hundreds of suspected undocumented workers — including the parents of young children.
Five days later, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services said the agency is receiving hotline reports that some children have not been reunited with either one of their parents.
The children CPS has been able to locate are being cared for by extended family members and neighbors, Lea Anne Brandon told the Clarion Ledger in an email on Monday, and none have been brought into the custody of CPS.
Brandon said workers have not been able to find some children believed to be without their parents. They’re continuing to search for them.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst’s office previously indicated they believed all children were reunited with at least one parent.
In a news release Thursday announcing the release of 300 of the approximately 680 detained immigrants on “humanitarian grounds,” Hurst’s office said if immigration officials encountered two suspected undocumented immigrant parents with minor children at home, one was released and returned to the place he or she was arrested. The same thing was done for single parents with minor children, the release said.
“Based on these procedures, it is believed that all children were with at least one of their parents as of last night,” the release said.
The office also provided a CPS hotline number, noting that people are required by state law to report any children without parents. The number to call is 1-800-222-8000.
On Monday morning, Hurst told the Clarion Ledger that CPS’ commissioner informed him they had not received calls about children without their parents.
“No one contacted CPS about a an unaccompanied child in response to this operation. Not a single person,” Hurst said.
Jess Dickinson, CPS commissioner, said he spoke with Hurst . At that time, Dickinson said, he did not know of any calls.
As of Monday, CPS has received “several” notifications through its hotline, Brandon said.
Anonymous callers, family members and friends of people affected by the raids have been calling CPS’ hotline, asking for workers to check on kids believed to have been left without a parent, she said.
CPS cannot confirm specific children because the agency does not have a list of names of children, current detainees and people who have been released to their families after processing, Brandon said.
“Our staff are responding to those calls — and did, throughout the weekend,” Brandon said. “To-date, no children have been brought into our custody and we have confirmed that children we have been able to locate are being cared for by neighbors or extended family members.”
The safety checks are ongoing because CPS workers have not been able to find some of the children who were brought to their attention, Brandon said. CPS has shared the safety check list with county offices and volunteer groups in the impacted communities.
She pointed out that Hurst told the media over the weekend that federal government has no idea how many children have been affected by the raids.
Brandon said, due to confidentiality requirements set by state law, CPS cannot release any case-specific or call-specific information. She could not specify how many hotline calls the agency received about children being separated from both their parents.
Children who are under the care of extended family and neighbors can remain where they are, Brandon said.
“Our primary focus at MDCPS, in this situation, is keeping affected children with people they know and are familiar and comfortable with — and then supporting both the children and their families/caregivers,” she said.
If the situation warrants, she said, CPS can provide temporary foster care for children who have no one to care for them while their parents are detained.
Most of the calls CPS has received through the hotline are from people volunteering to help and donate to families, Brandon said. The agency is compiling those offers and passing the information on to local groups such as Catholic Charities and legal assistance, she said.
ICE raids were months in the making, Hurst says
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst sat down with the Clarion Ledger Monday morning to discuss the raids.
On Wednesday morning, immigration officials — including 650 brought in from out of state, Hurst said — descended upon seven food processing plants in six communities: Morton, Canton, Bay Springs, Carthage, Pelahatchie and Sebastapol.
Hurst said his office had planned this operation for months. ICE had been investigating for more than a year. Affidavits attached to search warrants reveal that detained undocumented immigrants have been telling federal authorities for more than a decade that they work at food processing plants in Mississippi.
Workers at Morton’s Koch Foods plant told the Clarion Ledger mostly Latino employees were rounded up for questioning and taken away on by the busload.
Thirty-two people were released on site for humanitarian reasons, Hurst said. An additional 271 were processed at the National Guard base in Pearl before being released with ankle monitors.
ICE considered different factors, including whether the detainees had minor children at home, or if they were pregnant, in deciding who to release. Hurst said anyone with a criminal history remained in custody.
The other 380 people are being held in detention facilities in southwest Mississippi and Louisiana, Hurst said.
Next, homeland security investigations agents will look at evidence and present that evidence to Hurst’s office for possible criminal prosecutions, he said.
Last week, videos of weeping children, crying out for their parents, were shown by national media.
Hurst agreed that they elicited sympathy.
“It’s heartbreaking, it is, but what I would say to folks is, we indicted almost 500 individuals in the Southern District of Mississippi last year. And a lot of those had families. And a lot of those had children. And I want the same outrage and the same uprising for these families caught up in these parents’ illegal activities, to make our citizens rise up and help other children, other victims of crime. I hope this does that, but I guess we’ll see,” he said.
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Hurst: Raids ‘good for American citizens’
A big question remains: What’s going to happen to the companies suspected of employing undocumented workers?
None of the people who may have been responsible for hiring have been charged, and officials have said employers are part of their ongoing investigation.
Hurst highlighted his record of prosecuting businesses for hiring undocumented workers.
About a decade ago then-assistant U.S. attorney Hurst worked on prosecuting the Country Club of Jackson, where 18 undocumented workers was arrested, he said.
There was a deferred prosecution agreement for the business, he said. If the Country Club of Jackson complied with certain requirements — such as paying a $200,000 fine, submitting to an ICE audit and travel the state to teach other employers how to recognize fraudulent documents and use E-Verify — for two years, then charges against it would be dropped.
“That was just the beginning,” he said. “The Country Club of Jackson was just (former) U.S. Attorney Lampton putting employers on notice.”
In 2011, Howard Industries, Inc. pleaded guilty to employing undocumented immigrants after a 2008 raid resulted in nearly 600 arrests. In that case, a human resources manager went to prison, Hurst said.
“At the end of the day, all that we can do in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is prosecute when we have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that federal crimes have been committed. But, I think, if you look at our history, if you look at the cases we’ve prosecuted ….we prosecute employers in this district who break our federal criminal immigration laws,” Hurst said.
Hurst said he believes the prosecution of the Country Club of Jackson, Howard Industries and other employers served as a deterrent to others who would consider hiring undocumented workers.
He said he believes the ICE raids last week are already having a deterring effect now.
If companies “don’t have access” to undocumented workers, they’ll hire more legal residents, Hurst said.
“By doing these operations, I think it’s good for American citizens. Even though I know a lot of people complain that people won’t take these jobs. If employers pay them well, they’ll take these jobs,” he said.
Children marched in Canton over the weekend, protesting the raids and asking for their parents to be returned.
“Our parents are not criminals,” read one protest sign, echoing what the Clarion Ledger has heard from some other community residents.
It’s unclear how many people detained in the ICE raids are suspected of breaking laws besides allegedly living and working in the U.S. without permission.
Hurst said he’s waiting on that information from ICE, which will help determine what his office does going forward in any criminal prosecutions.
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