By Angela Fritz & Luis Velarde , MSN
Elizabeth Iraheta was passing the Koch Foods processing plant in Morton, Miss., on Wednesday when she saw immigration officials swarming outside and a helicopter overhead. Big silver buses lined the driveway and agents blocked the entrance gates.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were sweeping through the workplace and rounding up all undocumented immigrants. By the day’s end, nearly 700 people would be arrested. Angie’s mother was one of them.
Friends of Angie’s mother brought the 12-year-old girl to the food-processing plant to say goodbye before agents loaded her onto a bus with dozens of other immigrants. Angie is teary-eyed in a video of an encounter with an ICE agent but also seems confused about what was going to happen next.
“The girl is devastated for her mom,” Iraheta, 49, said. “We still don’t know if she will be released. The girl is in bad shape, very sad. We’re waiting for her mom.”
The Washington Post did not request Angie’s last name for the story because she is a minor, and we did not have permission from a guardian to do so. The Post also did not include portions of the video that include Angie’s face.
“Here’s the deal, all right,” an agent says to an English-speaking woman accompanying Angie. “She just went. Her mom got on the bus. We took her mom’s documents, all right. She’s going to be processed because she doesn’t have papers to be here legally.”
But “because she’s the only caretaker of the child,” the agent continues, “she’ll be released this afternoon. So with [Angie] being a U.S. citizen and being 12 years old … she’s going to be issued a notice to appear, she’ll have to see an immigration judge, she’ll be released this afternoon.”
“Today?” a woman asks. “Yes, yes,” the officer responds. “But I’m going to tell you something, she’s not going to be deported because she has a United States citizen child.” The group shares exasperated sighs as the woman translates what he said.
“You picked her up from school, right?” he asks the group. “You can either take her back to school, or you can keep custody of her until her mom gets out.”
Angie wasn’t the only child without a parent in Mississippi on Wednesday, according to local reports. Many children didn’t have a loved one or family friend to go home to. Some walked home from school but were locked out because their parents were detained in the raid.
Volunteers set up a makeshift shelter for the children at a local gym, WJTV’s Alex Love reported. There was food, “but most children are still devastated and crying for their parents and can’t eat,” Love said on Twitter.
Bryan D. Cox, a spokesman for ICE, told The Post that all arrested individuals were asked: “if they had any children who were at school or childcare and needed to be picked up.” He said cellphones were also made available to detainees so they could make arrangements for childcare. Cox also said schools were contacted as the raids began so they were aware there could be childcare issues and knew whom to contact if parents didn’t pick up their kids.
Any detainee who indicates he or she has dependents “and is not being criminally arrested or is subject to mandatory detention, will be expeditiously processed,” Cox said.
ICE raided seven work sites in six Mississippi cities on Wednesday, arresting hundreds of people that the agency said were undocumented. It was the largest single-state workplace enforcement action in U.S. history, The Post’s Abigail Hauslohner reports.
The raids were part of an investigation into illegal employment in the state, specifically at agricultural processing plants. Immigration officials would not tell The Post how many people they were targeting with the raid.
“I’ve been working on that plant for 19 years,” said Iraheta, who is a U.S. citizen, in a video. “We came here to work, and [the agents] are not looking for criminals. They’re looking at work sites for people who came to this country to work, who came to fight for their family.”
Angie is staying with Iraheta, from whom the family rents a room until she is reunited with her mother.
As of Wednesday night, Angie’s mother had not been released.