U.S. immigration officials raided seven Mississippi chicken processing plants Wednesday, arresting 680 largely Latino workers in the biggest workplace sting in at least a decade.

The raids, planned months ago, occurred just hours ahead of President Donald Trump visited El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino border city exactly where a man linked to an on line screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 persons dead.

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“On a day when we seek unifying words and acts to heal the nation’s broken heart, President Trump makes it possible for so lots of households and communities to be torn apart,” stated Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

About 600 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents fanned out across the plants operated by 5 firms, surrounding the perimeters to avert workers from fleeing.

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In Morton, about 65 kilometres east of the capital of Jackson, workers filled 3 buses – two for guys and a single for ladies – at a Koch Foods Inc. plant.

These arrested have been taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations. About 70 family members, close friends and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!” Later, two a lot more buses arrived.

A tearful 13-year-old boy whose parents are from Guatemala waved goodbye to his mother, a Koch worker, as he stood beside his father. Some personnel attempted to flee on foot but have been captured in the parking lot.

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Workers, such as Domingo Candelaria, who could show they have been in the nation legally have been permitted to leave the plant soon after agents searched the trunks of their cars.

“It was a sad scenario inside,” Candelaria stated.

Mississippi is the nation’s fifth-biggest chicken making state and the plants’ challenging processing jobs have mostly been filled by Latino immigrants eager to take what ever operate they can get. Chicken plants dominate the economies of Morton and other compact towns east of Jackson.

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Primarily based in Park Ridge, Illinois, Koch is a single of the biggest poultry producers in the U.S, with operations in Mississippi and 5 other states. The enterprise didn’t respond to phone calls and emails in search of comment.

Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, told The Connected Press in an interview Wednesday in Pearl, just down the road from the Koch plant, that the raids could be the biggest-ever workplace operation in any single state. Asked about their coinciding with Trump’s stop by to El Paso, Albence responded, “This is a lengthy-term operation that is been going on.” He stated raids are “racially neutral” and primarily based on proof of illegal residency.

The firms involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, Albence stated.

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Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, known as the “terrible” raids “another work to drive Latinos out of Mississippi,” and he blamed Trump for fanning racism with his previous incendiary comments about immigrants.

“This is the similar factor that Trump is performing at the border with the Border Patrol,” he stated, referring to the improved crackdown on migrants coming into the U.S.

Significant immigration raids have been prevalent below President George W. Bush, such as a single at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2008 that resulted in about 400 arrests. President Barack Obama avoided them, limiting workplace immigration efforts to low-profile audits.

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Trump resumed workplace raids, but the months of preparation and hefty sources they call for make them uncommon. Final year, the administration targeted a landscaping enterprise close to Toledo, Ohio, and a meatpacking plant in eastern Tennessee. The former owner of the Tennessee plant was sentenced to 18 months in prison final month.

On Wednesday, a hangar at a Mississippi Air National Guard base in Flowood, adjoining the Jackson airport, was set up to method these who have been detained. Workers formed seven lines, a single for each and every workplace raided, with fingerprint scanners and document printers at each and every interview station.

Cooling misters blew in front of fans, and two,000 catered meals have been ordered.

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Agents who arrived at the Morton plant passed a chain-hyperlink fence with a sign that stated the enterprise was hiring. Workers’ wrists have been tied with plastic bands and they deposited individual belongings in clear plastic bags.

“This will influence the economy,” Maria Isabel Ayala, a youngster care worker for plant personnel, stated as the buses left. “Without them right here, how will you get your chicken?”

Other firms targeted in the raids incorporated Peco Foods Inc., which has plants in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol PH Meals Inc. in Morton MP Meals Inc. in Pelahatchie and Pearl River Foods Inc. in Carthage.

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“We are totally co-operating with the authorities in their investigation and are navigating a possible disruption of operations,” Peco, primarily based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, stated in a statement. The enterprise added that it participates in E-Confirm, a government plan to screen new hires for immigration status.

No a single answered the telephone at Pearl River Foods. A lady who answered the telephone at PH Meals declined to comment or determine herself. A phone listing could not be discovered for MP Meals.

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