More major raids aimed at picking up undocumented immigrants are likely soon despite a flood of outrage at a huge operation last week that saw more than 600 Latino workers detained at poultry plants in Mississippi.
Donald Trump’s White House has ordered US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agents to identify more targets across the country, according to a report by CNN. The network said the raids would be specifically aimed at workplaces, just like those in Mississippi.
The fears come as the president described the workplace raids as a “very good deterrent” for undocumented immigrants. Trump has made curbing immigration a key theme of his presidency and a core issue for his 2020 re-election campaign but has been widely condemned for using racist language in describing immigration.
The order also comes days after the man accused of killing 22 people in El Paso, Texas, confessed he was targeting “Mexicans” and allegedly posted an online manifesto just before the shooting that contained anti-immigration language that echoed Trump’s own rhetoric.
The Mississippi raids triggered a slew of news reports and images of traumatized children bewildered by the abrupt loss of mothers, fathers and caregivers as their family members were picked up in a raid that coincided with the start of the new school year.
Dozens of children were picked up from local schools and taken to shelters, including a local gym, where they were looked after by volunteers. “Government, please show some heart,” begged an 11-year-old girl whose father was detained.
Asked why there was no better plan to care for the children, Trump told reporters on Friday: “You have to go in, you can’t let anybody know.
“Otherwise when you get there, nobody will be there,” Trump said. “But a big factor is to let people outside of the country that want to come in legally.”
Social media lit up with polarizing views in support of, and strongly against the action. Many Democrats condemned the raids and spoke in support of the families hit by them. The Vermont senator Bernie Sanders said the Ice raids were “evil”. Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said the raids’ “cruelty knows no bounds”. He was joined by 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden, who said they were aimed at “stoking fear”.
But many Mississippi state legislators expressed their support for Ice’s actions.
Mississippi’s lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, tweeted: “Glad to see that ICE is working hard to enforce our immigration laws. 680 aliens detained in Mississippi today. We must enforce our laws, for the safety of all Americans.”
As the administration orders new detentions, putting Latino communities across the US on edge, there appears to be little appetite to match the actions with prosecutions of the employers who actually hire them to do often tough manual work for low pay.
According to Ice figures obtained by the Washington Post, there has been a 300% increase in investigations between the 2017 and 2018, while the numbers of mangers arrested has doubled.
But a database maintained by Duke University and the University of Virginia found that just five companies have been prosecuted since Trump took office, compared to 88 prosecutions during the Obama administration between 2009 and 2016.
A separate study by Syracuse University found that no companies were prosecuted for knowingly hiring undocumented workers between April 2018 and March 2019.
In a letter to the attorney general, William Barr, and the acting secretary of homeland security, Kevin McAleenan, this week, leading Democratic members of Congress demanded documents showing whether the companies involved in the Mississippi raids would now face criminal charges or fines.
“It appears that these DoJ and Ice enforcement actions are targeting only immigrant workers and not their employers,” said the letter, signed by House oversight committee members Elijah Cummings, Bennie Thompson and Jamie Raskin.
The Mississippi raid came after repeated warnings by Trump that Ice was set to step up its operations. In June, Trump publicly warned of expanded Ice operations, prompting immigrant advocates to increase education for migrants on their rights.
Five days later, Trump announced the raids would be delayed.
But a month later, US immigration officials again warned that raids targeting thousands of families would take place in major cities across the US, including major cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Denver.
But despite the increased action, the Trump administration’s deportations have not matched those under Barack Obama. In the last fiscal year, Ice removed 250,000 undocumented migrants, compared with 410,000 removed in 2012.