US immigration: ICE releases 300 people after Mississippi raids

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Media captionMagdalena’s plea for her detained father: “Let my dad be free like everybody else please.”

US immigration officials have said they have released some 300 people who were arrested in a massive raid in Mississippi on Wednesday.

Nearly 700 workers from seven agricultural processing plants were arrested for allegedly not having proper documentation to be in the US.

The raids sparked condemnation from Democrats as stories emerged of children separated from their parents.

Officials say they took steps to ensure any children were properly cared for.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said “approximately 680 removable aliens” had been detained during the operation, which saw agents arriving in buses to question and arrest workers at the plants.

President Donald Trump had announced an immigration crackdown in June, saying “millions of illegal aliens who [had] found their way into the US” would be removed.

What did ICE say?

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the BBC on Thursday that those who were not released will be moved to an ICE detention facility and held there.

“The 300 released are released from custody,” he said in an emailed statement. “They were placed into proceedings before the federal immigration courts and will have their day in court at a later date.”

Mr Cox said those arrested were asked if they had any dependents needing care or if they had any children at school who needed to be picked up.

They were given access to phones at the processing site to make arrangements to care for their children. He said those with child care issues are “expeditiously processed and returned”.

In response to critics who called the raids cruel and harmful to the workers’ children, Mr Cox said the agency had directed two Homeland Security Investigations employees to notify schools of the operation and provide contact details for any children whose parents did not pick them up.

“This agency took extensive steps in planning for this operation to take special care of situations involving adults who may have childcare situations or children at school at the time of their arrest.”

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Those detained had been taken to a Mississippi National Guard hangar for questioning.

ICE did not share about the nationality of those detained, but the Mexican government has reportedly sent consular staff to the area to help any of their nationals who may be involved.

What happened at the plants?

The raids took place just hours before Mr Trump arrived in the majority Latino city of El Paso to mark a mass shooting which left 22 people dead.

About 600 ICE agents arrived at the chicken processing plants, owned by five different companies, in the towns of Bay Springs, Canton, Carthage, Morton, Pelahatchie and Sebastopol.

Friends and family looked on as officers surrounded plants and began to arrest the workers.

What happened to the children?

Some children were taken to a local gym after they came home to find their parents gone.

In one video posted on Facebook from the Koch Foods plant in Morton, a young girl can be heard weeping uncontrollably as bystanders watch people being loaded onto a bus.

“Her mum is in there,” a woman with the young girl tells an officer. “Her mum is her only legal guardian.”

The crying girl asks the officer, “Please, can I just see my mother, please.” The child was eventually allowed to see her mother before she was taken away.

When the officer returned the girl to the women helping her, he said her mother would be released the same afternoon.

“I’m going to tell you something, she’s not going to be deported because she has a US citizen child,” the officer said.

“Everything’s going to be fine, alright, don’t you worry about it, your mom’s not going to be deported, I promise you,” he told the girl.

According to the Washington Post, the girl’s mother was not released as of Wednesday night.

Scott County schools superintendent Tony McGee told the Clarion Ledger newspaper that one child had started kindergarten on Tuesday, only to have their parent arrested on Wednesday.

Mr McGee said at least six families had a parent detained in the raids, with children ranging in age from kindergarten to high school.

“We’ll worry about the school part of it after we get all this sorted out,” he added. “You can’t expect a child to stay focused on the schoolwork when he’s trying to focus on where Mom and Dad are.”

What’s been the reaction?

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba condemned the raids as “dehumanising and ineffective”.

But Mike Hurst, US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said ICE agents were executing warrants to arrest the “illegal aliens”.

“They have to follow our laws, they have to abide by our rules, they have to come here legally or they shouldn’t come here at all,” he told a press conference.

Some Trump supporters on Twitter also backed the agency, saying the law must be enforced.

Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris said in a tweet: “These ICE raids are designed to tear families apart, spread fear, and terrorize communities. These children went to daycare and are now returning home without their parents because Trump wants to play politics with their lives.”

Fellow 2020 contender Cory Booker echoed the same sentiment.

“The moral vandalism of this administration has no end – how is traumatizing these kids, abandoning them, making anyone any safer?”

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