Augatina Leon sits with her granddaughter, Jerilynn Perez, outside of Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Thursday, August 8, 2019. Friends and family members of those who were detained during Wednesday’s immigration raid wait outside in hope of their loved ones being released and returned to the processing plant.

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As schools, churches and advocates worked frantically to ensure the safety of children left behind following Wednesday’s immigration raids, federal officials insisted that districts and parents alike were given “ample ” opportunity to make arrangements.

In a conference call with media, federal officials provided more details on the “largest single state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history,” Thursday afternoon, a day after 680 people were detained at multiple food processing plants in Mississippi. Late Thursday, around 400 people remained in custody.

“We took a lot of steps to make sure that if they had children that were in school, the schools were aware of what we were doing and how to get in touch with us,” said Jere Miles, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations New Orleans. “I can also say that we gave them numerous opportunities to make phone calls.”

This statement contradicts media reports — according to contents of an email obtained by Mississippi Today, ten cell phones were provided to the 680 detainees.

“As you parse out a timeline, I say they were given a heads up. They (school districts) were told while we were in the process of conducting the operation,” Miles said. “We advised them after we had already started execution of the search warrant.”

U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst speaks to media during a press conference about the results of the execution of federal search warrants by Homeland Security Investigations’ special agents at multiple locations across the state Wednesday, August 7, 2019. About 680 people were detained during this operation.

U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not contact anyone outside of law enforcement, such as the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, ahead of the raid “…because of the nature of executing federal criminal search warrants.”

Officials did not say whether any of the companies that employed these workers faced any repercussions.

Officials offered preliminary numbers on the raids, but noted that agents are still processing and these figures could change. Of the 680 people arrested:

  • 32 people were released on site for “humanitarian reasons”
  • 271 people were released
  • 377 people remain detained
  • During the raid, officials discovered that 18 workers were under the age of 18

Those who are still detained are in custody in Louisiana and Mississippi, said ICE communications director Bryan Cox. Cox did not identify specific locations. All juveniles were released, and those who were detained but released will eventually be required to appear before an immigration judge, officials said.

ICE returned those who were released to the sites where they were initially detained.

Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019.

Thursday afternoon in Morton – about 40 miles east of Jackson – family members and friends of those detained during the raids waited outside of the Koch Foods Inc., plant in hopes that their loved ones would return. Gabriela Rosales told Mississippi Today she waited outside of the plant since she first heard the news Wednesday morning, until the wee hours Thursday morning.

“I’ve been here since 4 a.m. today and I was here all night last night, but no one has come yet,” she said. “This is a terrible situation.”

She took her kids to school and returned to the plant to continue waiting. Many people sat in their vehicles, surrounded by others with the same worry in their faces.

In record-breaking workplace raid, immigration officials claim parents released first

Meanwhile, advocacy groups and faith leaders from around the state rallied together at the NAACP headquarters in Jackson Thursday afternoon to condemn the raid and its aftermath, and to express continued support for Mississippians affected by the raids.

In a statement, the group said: “These raids are inconsistent with our values. In Mississippi, we appreciate neighbors who work hard and are committed to their families. Those are exactly the kind of people who were zip-tied and locked up by ICE yesterday. The government is punishing the kind of people we’ve come to appreciate and embrace as neighbors, and this is inconsistent with what we believe about what’s right and what America stands for.”

“This is telling me that we are not alone,” Father Odel Medina, pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Carthage, where many members were impacted, said.

Organizers announced that a legal team was being formed, led by Amelia McGowan of Mississippi Center for Justice and consisting of attorneys from the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and other groups.

Patricia Ice, MIRA’s legal director, said advocates were still trying to assess who needed legal support following the large-scale operation.

Eric Shelton contributed to this report.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

Michelle Liu was a 2018 corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms. She covered criminal justice issues across the state from June 2018 until May 2020. Prior to joining the Mississippi Today team, her work appeared in the New Haven Independent.