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680 Arrested in ICE Raids at Mississippi Food Processing Plants

Aug. 8, 2019, 1:58 PM

About 680 immigrant workers at seven Mississippi food processing plants were arrested Aug. 7, in the largest workplace raid in about a decade, U.S. authorities said.

The raids took place on the same day that President Donald Trump visited El Paso, Texas, where authorities say 22 people were slain Aug. 3 by a gunman believed to have been motivated to kill Mexicans. But authorities said the raids were not linked to politics or to recent mass shootings.

“While the tragedies this weekend around the country are horrific, this operation had been planned way before that and we intended to carry it out,” Mike Hurst, U.S. Attorney for the South District of Mississippi, told reporters at a news conference.

Over 650 agents nationwide were brought in for the operation that began over a year ago, said Hurst and Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE has ramped up its work-site enforcement efforts since late 2017, when former Director Thomas Homan promised to quadruple job-site enforcement. Some 280 workers were arrested in north Texas in April on administrative charges of working unlawfully at a telecommunications equipment repair business and four of its staffing companies.

Many of ICE’s workplace efforts have focused on auditing employers’ I-9 employment verification forms. In fiscal year 2018, the agency launched 6,848 work-site investigations and 5,981 I-9 audits. By contrast, there were 1,691 work-site investigations and 1,360 I-9 audits in FY 2017.

Workers In Country Illegally

Video provided by ICE showed agents wearing bulletproof vests and shuttle buses arriving at one plant in Canton, Miss. Workers were shown being patted down and handcuffed before being taken to another site to provide biometric information.

The workers were living and working in the country illegally and would be placed in deportation proceedings, Albence said.

They declined to release additional details about the arrests in six Mississippi cities, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We’re not directing this at any particular group or anything like that,” Hurst said.

The plants were operated by Koch Foods Inc. and Peco Foods Inc., according to ICE.

Messages from Bloomberg Law seeking comment from the companies were not immediately returned.

Privately held Koch Foods employs over 13,000 people at plants in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee, as well as its headquarters in Park Ridge, Illinois. Peco Foods, also privately held, is based in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Eleven years ago, authorities arrested 595 people in Mississippi for immigration violations in similar raids, Hurst said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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