Last week, ICE raided five meat-processing plants in Mississippi, detaining 680 people who were assumed to be undocumented. The initial stories focused on children who were “devastated” with no parent at home. In a statement the day after the raids, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that approximately 300 of the people who had been detained were released.
Preliminarily, it appears that approximately 30 detained aliens were released yesterday on humanitarian grounds at the individual sites where they were initially encountered, and another 270 detained aliens were released after being processed by HSI at the National Guard base in Pearl and returned to the place where they were originally encountered.
But at least five days after the raids, there were still reports that some children had not been reunited with their parents.
In addition to the trauma experienced by these children, it’s also important to consider what these raids mean to those small rural towns in Mississippi. According to a report in USA Today by Justin Victory, even the 300 people who were released can’t return to work at the food processing plants. So Koch Foods, Inc., one of the plants that was raided, asked the state to conduct a job fair to find workers. About 25-30 people showed up.
To understand what happens in these communities over the long term, Univision created a documentary about the town of Postville, Iowa, which was devastated by a similar raid back in 2008. The Des Moines Register reports that:
After the raid, businesses and restaurants shut down on Main Street. About 50 homes were forfeited to Freedom Bank and property values plummeted, said Adam Weigand, the bank’s senior vice president.
Most of the immigrants detained in the Postville raid were deported. What happened next is that immigrants from other countries—primarily West Africa—filled the void. In a town with slightly more than 2,000 residents, students from 13 countries now attend the high school.
One question that remains is: what happens to the employers? The CEO of the Postville plant was criminally charged and sentenced to 27 years in prison for not only hiring hundreds of undocumented workers, but also providing them with phony documents and laundering money through other businesses he controlled. Then in 2017, Donald Trump commuted his sentence. So while the president is locking immigrant families up in cages, he wants the guy responsible for hiring them to go free.
Perhaps the most interesting point of all of this is that hiring undocumented workers is a civil offense. You may remember the howling that ensued when presidential candidate Julian Castro suggested that we decriminalize border crossings by making it a civil offense. Why not treat people crossing the border the same way we treat those who knowingly employ them? Once again, we see that our country comes down much harder on the poor and weak than it does on the rich and powerful.
As a result of the ICE raids in Mississippi last week, hundreds of undocumented immigrants will be deported and the towns where they had settled will be economically devastated. Those small communities will spend the next decade working to recoup what they lost. Meanwhile, if anyone thinks that people like the owners of Koch Foods will actually pay a price under this administration, they are as delusional as Donald Trump.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that Koch Foods is associated with Charles and David Koch, the majority shareholders of Koch Industries. Koch Foods, however, is not affiliated with the Koch brothers. We regret the error.