MORTON, Miss. — U.S. immigration officials raided seven Mississippi chicken processing plants Wednesday, arresting 680 mostly Latino workers in the largest workplace sting in at least a decade.

The raids, planned months ago, happened just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino border city where a man linked to an online screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 people dead.

About 600 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents fanned out across the plants operated by five companies, surrounding the perimeters to prevent workers from fleeing.

In Morton, about 40 miles east of the capital of Jackson, workers filled three buses — two for men and one for women — at a Koch Foods plant.

Those arrested were taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations. About 70 family members, friends and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!” Later, two more buses arrived.

A tearful 13-year-old boy whose parents are from Guatemala waved goodbye to his mother, a Koch worker, as he stood beside his father. Some employees tried to run but were captured in the parking lot.

Workers, including Domingo Candelaria, who could show they were in the country legally, were allowed to leave the plant after agents searched the trunks of their vehicles.

“It was a sad situation inside,” Candelaria said.

Mississippi is the nation’s fifth-largest chicken producing state and the plants’ tough processing jobs have mainly been filled by Latino immigrants eager to take whatever work they can get. Chicken plants dominate the economies of Morton and other small towns east of Jackson.

Based in Park Ridge, Illinois, Koch is one of the largest poultry producers in the U.S, with operations in Mississippi and five other states. The company didn’t respond to telephone calls and emails seeking comment.

Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday in Pearl, just down the road from the Koch plant, that the raids could be the largest-ever workplace operation in any single state. Asked about their coinciding with Trump’s visit to El Paso, Albence responded, “This is a long-term operation that’s been going on.” He said raids are “racially neutral” and based on evidence of illegal residency.

The companies involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, Albence said.

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, called the “terrible” raids “another effort to drive Latinos out of Mississippi,” and he blamed Trump for fanning racism with his past incendiary comments about immigrants.

“This is the same thing that Trump is doing at the border with the Border Patrol,” he said, referring to the increased crackdown on migrants coming into the U.S.

Major immigration raids were common under President George W. Bush, including one at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2008 that resulted in about 400 arrests. President Barack Obama avoided them, limiting workplace immigration efforts to low-profile audits.

Trump resumed workplace raids, but the months of preparation and hefty resources they require make them rare. Last year, the administration targeted a landscaping company near Toledo, Ohio, and a meatpacking plant in eastern Tennessee. The former owner of the Tennessee plant was sentenced to 18 months in prison last month.

On Wednesday, a hangar at a Mississippi Air National Guard base in Flowood, adjoining the Jackson airport, was set up to process those who were detained. Employees formed seven lines, one for each workplace raided, with fingerprint scanners and document printers at each interview station.

Cooling misters blew in front of fans, and 2,000 catered meals were ordered.

Agents who arrived at the Morton plant passed a chain-link fence with a sign that said the company was hiring. Workers’ wrists were tied with plastic bands and they deposited personal belongings in clear plastic bags.

“This will affect the economy,” Maria Isabel Ayala, a child care worker for plant employees, said as the buses left. “Without them here, how will you get your chicken?”

Other companies targeted in the raids included Peco Foods Inc., which has plants in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol; PH Food Inc. in Morton; MP Food Inc. in Pelahatchie and Pearl River Foods Inc. in Carthage.

“We are fully cooperating with the authorities in their investigation and are navigating a potential disruption of operations,” Peco, based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said in a statement. The company added that it participates in E-Verify, a government program to screen new hires for immigration status.

No one answered the phone at Pearl River Foods. A woman who answered the phone at PH Food declined to comment or identify herself. A telephone listing could not be found for MP Food.

———

Amy reported from Pearl, Mississippi. Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(36) comments

Dwasserba

'“This will affect the economy,' Maria Isabel Ayala, a child care worker for plant employees, said as the buses left. 'Without them here, how will you get your chicken?”' If you don't care about immigrants, no chicken for you. Fair.

phydeaux994

Read the story of Cactus Texas when the local meat plant was raided in 2006?......Cactus and surrounding Moore County have bounced back from the raid, and the plant today is once more thriving, shipping steaks to Walmart and hamburger meat to Burger King. But finding workers remains a perpetual struggle. JBS USA, a Brazilian conglomerate that now owns the plant, has raised starting wages nearly 25 percent in recent years, but like other meat processors across the country, it survived by finding a different set of foreigners to do jobs that used to be filled by illegal workers: refugees.

There are Burmese meat cutters a few years removed from refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia. "Chuckers" from Sudan, tall and strong, who specialize in separating the spinal cord from a side of beef swinging on a moving chain. Somalis who showed up in such numbers that Moore County at one point had the fifth-highest per capita Muslim population in the United States, according to religion survey data, though many of those workers have moved to join a larger community of their compatriots in Minnesota.

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Samanthapowers

thank you. you would be so fortunate to be in the same class as me. unfortunately you are stuck as CS. sorry!

hayduke2

The phone is probably ringing in the WH right now. The Koch brothers who spend millions to keep Republicans in power aren't going to like this. They are faux patriots who are only concerned about the dollars they can add to their personal fortunes. Want to bet they get no fines.

DickD

Trump just doesn't like honest Republican farmers that voted for him. He's putting the Iowa farmers out of business, now he is after the Mississippi chicken farmers. Meanwhile the illegals can get jobs at Trump's golf courses. It's just an easy way to "stiff " them, like what he did to the 200 Polish illegals that worked for him.


Russian

American Farmers getting paid billions not to plant is textbook socialism

Dwasserba

They don't want it that way!

DickD

Koch 's big time Republicans. Supporters of Trump. They will not be fined. Still you will not be getting your chicken so cheap, if at all. Just wait and see what happens at Trump's golf courses, where most of the ground keepers are Latinos.

rbtdt5

OK, you are 100% wrong on everything you just said. Koch's are libertarian. They NEVER supported Trump. They refused. They are saying they will probably stay out of the 2020 race, but are going to be supporting some democrats running for congress. Here are some links to help get you up to speed. I'm sure facts won't stop the lies the media lies to you and you repeat.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/06/koch-network-open-to-democrats-as-expands-political-engagement.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-network-tells-donors-it-plans-to-stay-out-of-2020-race-once-again-declining-to-back-trump/2019/01/24/47d84eae-1e7a-11e9-bda9-d6efefc397e8_story.html?noredirect=on

KR999

rb, we all know by now that Dick is quite adapt at making up his own little lies about Trump, the anti-Trump cult has bored into his brain just like a weevil. Nobody with a mind of their own takes him, or any of his fellow cultists, seriously.

Russian

If your white and your economic viability is threatened by undocumented poultry workers obviously you've made some bad decisions in life.

awteam2000

Or just stupid.


Russian

Trump has hired thousands of illegal workers and arguably married one.

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Russian

Ha!

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Dwasserba

No.

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KR999

Wasn't she a co-worker of your wife's back then, Dick?

Russian

Of course not she was a genius!


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gabrielshorn2013

Sorry Dick, way outta line.

FCPS-Principal

Ok, Deplorables!! There's 680 openings at Koch's chicken plants. Let's see you fill them, now. Otherwise, clap your trap and bring back those hard working immigrants.

FCPS-Principal

Well, I never expected that the red state of Mississippi was full of law-breaking businesses. Where is the report that the chicken plant owners were arrested? I want to see them in handcuffs.

BunnyLou

Bye bye, adios.

DickD

In a red state, giving illegals employment. OMG.

Dwasserba

Mississippi: fun to spell. There it stops.

public-redux

Our Great Patriotic Leader promised “millions”. 680? A failing presidency!

Jeepers11md

grow up at least it is a start and hope more coming we have the best President we ever had a lot better then Mr. Obama

FCPS-Principal

There's a job waiting for you in Morton, Mississippi now. Get cracking!

DickD

Jeepers, your chicken will be expensive and after they raid Trump's golf courses you can throw your golf clubs away.

KR999

Oh, so Trump owns every golf course, Dick?

public-redux

Grow up? OK. "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

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Samanthapowers

he did? proof please. do you just make this up as you go along or are you really that ignorant?

BunnyLou

Since when is proof a requirement for you? You and your type are less grounded in reality than considering MSNBC and CNN real news outlets.

What did O say to the russian Medvedev? Didn’t he say to tell Putin he’d have more flexibility to negotiate a weakened missile defensive system for one since the reset didn’t work?

DickD

Bunny, how can you ramble on about CNN and MSNBC and watch Faux News?

Samanthapowers

You just pull stuff out of the air that has no basis in reality.

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DickD

Better 22 dims than one Repugnant.

Dwasserba

Best slogan ever

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hayduke2

Not worthy of a response.

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