Roughly 200 people packed into Holmes Hall Auditorium at Tougaloo College on Thursday for the Committee on Homeland Security’s field hearing to discuss the aftermath of the largest workplace immigration raids in the country’s history.
“Because of the way these raids were carried out, communities are living in fear,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the committee. Thompson, a Tougaloo alum, conducted the hearing alongside Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Al Green of Texas, and Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
On Aug. 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 680 poultry workers across Mississippi.
The committee questioned two panels of experts regarding their experiences with the event and its aftermath. On one panel sat Jere Miles, an ICE special agent from the New Orleans Field Office, Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee and Canton Mayor William Truly Jr.
In a room filled with affected family and community members, Miles was the sole panelist to defend the operation. To his right sat Sheriff Mike Lee, who said he was given no notice ahead of the raids.
When Committee members pressed Miles on that point, he responded that ICE had no policy about giving advance notice to local authorities.
As Thompson, as well as Sheila Jackson Lee and Green, continued to press Miles, frustrations grew and Miles defended the arrests.
“To date, it’s my understanding that no major crimes have been solved, except for the immediacy of immigration laws, but no major crimes out of the 680 persons who were taken,” Rep. Lee said.
“Four hundred cases of identity theft, m’am,” Miles replied. “Is that not a serious crime?”
Thompson jumped in, telling Miles to calm down.
“I am calm,” Miles said.
“Well then be quiet,” Thompson responded, leading to applause from the crowd. After Rep. Lee clarified her point, Miles agreed, that no “major crime syndicate” was detained.
Green emphasized one of Miles’ responses, that none of the employers at the poultry plants have been charged.
“Mr. Miles, if you know that the employees are there, and they have an E-Verify system, and you’re going to arrest the employees, you have evidence that the employers are also in violation of the law,” Green said. “You indicated that you want to take away the economic incentives (of coming to the U.S.), and you do that by coming in and taking the undocumented persons and having them do a perp walk, but you don’t have a perp walk for the employers.”
The hearing’s other panel had Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center; the Rev. Odel Medina, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Carthage; Constance Slaughter-Harvey, president of the board of the Legacy Education and Empowerment Foundation; and Lorena Quiroz, the lead organizer for Working Together Mississippi and the Mississippi immigration Coalition.
Quiroz, describing her work consulting affected family members, discussed the difficulties around finding interpreters, specifically that there is only one licensed bilingual trauma counselor in the whole state. She added that kids she talked to were teased in class after their parents were taken.
Johnson, a former assistant attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the raid was a “shocking” use of resources, using 600 federal agents to arrest 680 people. He said that the raid could have been avoided, as it did not “serve a substantial federal interest.”
Also on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst announced that 119 of the detainees have been prosecuted. The indictments range from misusing social security numbers of citizens, fraudulently claiming to be a citizen, falsifying immigration documents, and reentering the U.S. after being deported or removed. Forty seven of the 119 have pled guilty.