The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee on Friday sent a blistering letter to the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for leaving an “unknown number of children without their parents” when agents detained nearly 700 immigrant workers in raids in Mississippi.
“I write to express my outrage,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote to ICE chief Matthew Albence, accusing him of using an underhanded strategy to effect “another form of family separation.”
“At a time when this country is grieving due to two domestic terrorist shootings, your agency has instead seemingly deliberately disregarded its own long-standing guidelines and carried out another form of family separation,” wrote Thompson, referring to the mass shootings last Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. The suspected gunman in the Texas attack told police he targeted Mexicans, according to authorities.
Thompson also sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan demanding details on the operation that separated “terrified” children from their parents. The letter was also signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Thompson accused Albence of creating “chaos” and failing to follow ICE’s own guidelines for coordinating actions with local social service agencies to make certain children left abandoned by the detentions were taken care of. “The blatant lack of planning and resulting chaos calls into question the true motivation behind these worksite enforcement operations,” Thompson wrote.
“More than 24 hours after the operation had concluded, ICE had still not contacted Mississippi’s Department of Child Protection Services,” Thompson added. “This left state agencies, schools, and local communities scrambling to help children affected by these raids and ensure they did not go home to an empty house on their first day of school. This is unacceptable.”
Thompson demanded details about what actions ICE took to address the issue of abandoned children. He also demanded to know the “number of children impacted and the number of children left without a caregiver due to this operation.”
Many children left school or were stuck at day care Wednesday with no one to pick them up — or returned to locked homes with no adult to greet them — after parents were arrested. Some children were reunited with their parents Thursday morning when some 300 of those arrested were released with notices to appear before immigration judges.
Albence boasted that the raids were a textbook operation, carried out in a safe manner, and done securely.” But schools weren’t notified until after the raids began, and parents were allowed a phone call only after their detention to make arrangements for child care — in many cases long after it was needed. A gym owner in one community arranged for mattresses and donated food for children so they could eat dinner and spend the night in his gym.
“Some of [the children] knew nothing about where their parents were. When their parents were reunited with them, they ran up and started hugging and crying, and it touched my heart,” Scott County Youth Court Prosecutor Constance Slaughter-Harvey told the Jackson Free Press on Thursday. She said she scrambled to find homes the day of the raids for 30 children in her county alone.
There was no immediate comment from Albence.