SEE VIDEO AT LEFT OF TODAY'S UNFOLDING EVENTS.
BAY SPRINGS -- Some food processing workers at a Bay Springs poultry processing facility may be able to return home for humanitarian reasons – depending on their status – after federal immigration officials process those arrested as part of a seven-site coordinated raids around the state.
The raids began early Wednesday morning not long after work shifts began.
ICE officials served multiple federal criminal search warrants and raided facilities at seven different poultry processing facilities in Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Morton, Pelahatchie and Sebastopol.
Helicopters were seen circling overhead as more than 600 agents scrambled to assail site facilities to keep many from fleeing. Workers were arrested, hands tied with plastic bands, and placed on large buses which had been lined up since early in the day to be dispatched to the various plants.
Peco Foods was one of seven plants targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District in Jackson. Koch Foods of Morton was another of the companies hit in the raids.
Officials reported that 680 people in total were arrested and transported in large buses to a Mississippi National Guard hangar/holding facility in Flowood, Mississippi, for initial processing. The facility was set up with meals to process those with immigration violations.
Some undocumented workers could be released today or tomorrow pending interviews and circumstances. All of those held are being interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by ICE agents. Some will be processed for removal from the United States, and transported to an ICE facility in Jena, Louisiana, where an immigration court is located.
A press conference was held at 2:00 on Wednesday afternoon by the U.S. Southern District Attorney’s Office. U.S. Southern District Attorney Mike Hurst said the arrest count from Wednesday’s raids may make it the largest workplace sting in more than a decade and probably the largest ever for a single state.
“Eleven years ago, this month, ICE special agents and our agents executed search warrants that was then the largest single workplace immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history with 595 illegal aliens,” he said. “Today, as a result of the hard work of these men and women in law enforcement, we set another record.”
“This time in what is believed to be the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history,” said ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, adding that each case would be handled individually.
“We are in the process of going through each individual – depending on their circumstances – is what happens to them,” he said. “Some individuals will be caught as criminals. Some individuals are here illegally, have already gone through the immigration court process, have been ordered to be removed by an immigration order, and have ignored the court order. Those individuals we will look to swiftly remove.”
“The other individuals have yet to go through the individual process,” he continued. “It’s just like any investigation and arrest by any law enforcement agency. Our arrests of these individuals is the front end of the process. We will place them in front of an immigration judge, where they will plead their case as to whether or not they have a legal right to remain in the United States.”
Albence said the federal agents work with local authorities to see that the children are cared for properly.
“What we have done and going forward is a process where we have worked with school liaison officers to help with these children,” he said. “Some of the parents will be released and placed with ankle monitors throughout the immigration legal proceedings. They may be released to go home as early as today or tomorrow (Thursday), but each case is handled individually.”
"I've never done anything like this," Chris Heck, resident agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit in Jackson, told The Associated Press inside the hangar. "This is a very large worksite operation."
Family members of those detained can call ICE’s toll-free detainee locator hotline for information about an individual’s detention location and status, as well as information about the removal process. This hotline operates in English and Spanish. The phone number is 1-888-351-4024.
More to follow as the story progresses further.