Several children in Mississippi had nowhere to go on Wednesday after their parents and caretakers were arrested in a series of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at seven food processing plants targeting undocumented immigrants. Some 680 people in six cities were apprehended in the massive sting, which federal officials characterized as possibly the largest worksite enforcement operation ever taken in a single state.
It remains unclear how long these families will be separated.
A number of kids reportedly walked home from school in the afternoon only to be locked out — their loved ones nowhere in sight. Others were picked up by family friends and acquaintances, some of whom brought the kids to their parents’ worksites so the children could wave goodbye to their moms and dads as they were loaded onto buses by federal agents.
The Washington Post described the helpless tears of a 12-year-old girl named Angie who watched as her mother — her sole caretaker — was loaded onto a bus with dozens of other immigrants in the city of Morton.
“The girl is devastated for her mom,” Elizabeth Iraheta, the family’s landlord who is temporarily caring for Angie, told the paper. “We still don’t know if she will be released. The girl is in bad shape, very sad.”
According to WJTV reporter Alex Love, several children whose parents and caretakers were arrested Wednesday were being housed in a makeshift shelter set up by volunteers at a gym in Forest, Mississippi.
Food and drinks had been donated for the children, Love said, but most of the kids were too upset to eat.
Love shared a photograph of a little girl crying into her hands as her pizza grew cold on a plate in front of her.
An 11-year-old girl named Magdalena told WJTV through tears that she hoped the government would “please show some heart” and release her dad who was arrested.
“Let my parent be free and everyone else please don’t leave the child with cryness and everything,” she said.
Schools in impacted communities were reportedly doing their part to ensure that children whose family members were apprehended would not be left alone.
According to The Clarion-Ledger, Tony McGee, the superintendent of the Scott County school district, said teachers and other staff were “on standby” to help kids in need.
McGee also told the paper that bus drivers in the district had been given strict instructions to ensure that children were met by a parent or guardian when they were dropped off. If they weren’t, drivers were told to take the child back to school.
“We’re going to be here at the school until we make sure that every child is home safe or has a safe place to go,” McGee said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re going to make sure our kids are taken care of first.”
ICE said that some of those arrested Wednesday will be prosecuted for crimes, some will be promptly deported while others will be released pending hearings before an immigration judge.
A spokesman for the agency told The Clarion-Ledger that the agency would first screen and process the immigrants in its custody before determining who would remain in detention.
“Not everyone is going to be [permanently] detained,” Bryan Cox told the paper. “You are going to have persons released. ICE makes custody determination on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of their circumstances.”
Cox, however, did not provide a concrete timeline of how long immigrants, including those with children, could be expected to be detained. He also said he didn’t know how many people detained in the raid had children at home.
In the case of 12-year-old Angie, an ICE agent told her landlord that the girl’s mother would be released within hours since she was the only caretaker of the child, an American citizen.
The agent said the woman would be “released this afternoon,” per a video obtained by The Washington Post ― but according to the paper, Angie’s mom had not been released as of Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s ICE raids have been the largest to date under President Donald Trump, who’s pursued a hardline immigration agenda since taking office. According to The New York Times, the operation was the biggest since 2006 when more than 1,200 people were arrested in a multi-state operation targeting a meatpacking company.
Luis Cartagena, a pastor in Morton, told BuzzFeed that the raids had deeply traumatized the Latino community.
“People are terrified,” he said. “They are scared to death.”