The recent ICE raids that detained 680 food workers in Mississippi not only strike fear and terror in the hearts of immigrants, but are a calculated move to enable greater exploitation of immigrants because it increases their insecurity and makes organizing more difficult
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
The nation watched in horror this week as 680 allegedly undocumented workers at the Koch Foods processing plant in Morton, Mississippi, were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. While this incident might be seen on the surface as an expression of the Trump administration’s a brutal anti-immigration policies, what happened this week in Mississippi might actually be part of a long practice of companies that exploit and abuse undocumented workers using deportation as a tool of control and retaliation.
Joining me to talk about this issue from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is Cynthia Garcia. Cynthia is a Deportation Defense Hotline Coordinator with United We Dream, which is the largest immigration youth-led organization in the country, fighting for justice and dignity for all immigrants. Cynthia, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me today.
CYNTHIA GARCIA: Thank you for allowing us to be in this space.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Just to quickly go over the fact, if people are not aware, Wednesday of this week, ICE agents descended upon five food processing plants in a small town in Mississippi, ultimately detaining 600 people they claimed were undocumented. ICE agents put them on five buses, took them to a nearby Air Force hangar where almost half of the people were released the next morning and more were released later.
Cynthia, of the roughly 300 people who were released Thursday morning, are they free of legal worries, and what is happening with the rest who are still being detained?
CYNTHIA GARCIA: That’s a great question. I think something that needs to be highlighted here is that, although folks may have been released, that they are probably still having a process where they will still have to return and continue a deportation proceeding process. We are still working to identify local organizations that are doing a lot of the on-the-ground work to figure out what these processes look like, what the next steps are for possible appointments.
We know that anyone who is able to be released from this detention, at times, the release and liberation is a great step, but there is a legal burden that continues to be part of the system that still is going to be needing the support so that they are able to fight for their freedom fully.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: While the people who were released still need legal support locally and nationally, while they were being detained, the children of the people who were detained were still in school, and those children did not find out that their parents had been detained until either the children went home to find nobody at home or someone, friends or family members, went to the schools to pick the children up and to tell them that their parents were not going to be coming home that day. Now, this obviously devastated and traumatized those children. How many parents are still being detained by ICE who are separated from their children still at this point?
CYNTHIA GARCIA: Yeah, so we know that it was about 300 folks that were actually released, but the total of individuals that were detained that day were 680, so we know that there’s still a large majority, 380 folks, that we have not yet been able to identify the next steps for their children. Like I said, I am not currently on the ground, but a lot of the local organizations like MIRA, El Pueblo, ACLU, Mississippi, are doing all the delegation and all the work to try to, one, provide the legal support, but also be able to identify how we’re going to provide a space to hold those families who may not have been part of that ICE activity, but are also fearful and also fear for their children.
I think that Wednesday, the images of the first day of school for so many of those kids that we saw on the videos came to a very sour ending when we were able to identify that, as we were coming back from a very horrific weekend where a shooting in two states thousands of miles apart were guided by this rhetoric of racism and hate against immigrants, and to see the children not have someone to come home, it’s another act of terror against the immigrant community, and there is the resilience of the community stepping up and finding ways to support the children who may not have a parent coming back home and then continue to come together and figure out the best possible ways to support them and to gain the liberation of the parents who are not able to stand and kiss their children good night today.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You mentioned that this was the first day of school for those children. This is what some of the children faced when they returned home from school that first day of school that day. Please, let’s show this clip.
MAGDALENA GREGORIO, 11-YEARS-OLD : My daddy didn’t do nothing. He’s not a criminal or something. That’s why immigration took him. Please let him free. The government—Government, please put your heart. Let my parent be free with everybody else please.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is what a so many children had to return home to on their first day of school, coming home to find that their parents were not there, and, on the surface, we see this incident, this action that was carried out Wednesday as a part of this administration’s stated, almost hallmark, foundational campaign of terror against what they call “illegal immigrants,” their words, not ours, and certainly not mine, and not only is it the foundation of or the hallmark of this administration’s “accomplishments,” but this president has actually commented on and doubled down on this incident as we hear in this clip right now.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have to go in. You can’t let anybody know. Otherwise, when you get there, nobody will be there. I want people to know that if they come into the United States illegally, they’re getting out. They’re going to be brought out. This serves as a very good deterrent, and when people see what they saw yesterday and like what they will see for a long time, they know that they’re not staying.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Obviously, as you said, this is a – and I concur this is a campaign of terror against the immigrant community. In one aspect, it is working in a way because, in one school district in Morton, Mississippi, 150 students in one school alone were not present in school the next day, and school officials could not encourage parents to bring their kids to school.
The Chicago Tribune reported a local pastor, Reverend Michael O’Brien, who’s a pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, nearby Canton, as quoting, as saying that he notices in his community, the people in his parish, largely Latino, that the people are all afraid. He said, “Their doors are locked, and they won’t answer their doors.” So, yes, this campaign of terror seems to be effective in making the communities it’s targeting afraid.
Cynthia, there are now reports coming out that this is more than just the latest salvo in Trump’s immigration program because, last August, an Illinois-based… I’m sorry, Koch Foods, which by the way is not related to the Koch Brothers, settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of more than 100 workers in that plant that was raided today over claims that the company knew or should have known of sexual and physical assaults against its Hispanic workers. Can you tell us more about that, that lawsuit, those complaints, and how this lawsuit is related to this raid that happened this week?
CYNTHIA GARCIA: I think, frankly, when we look at that particular component of the lawsuit, I think we also… We can concur on how this is another way to try and stop the community from organizing, from protecting themselves. It’s very clear and obvious that, while it’s been announced that these raids were scheduled prior to this past weekend’s events and while we don’t know for sure if they are particularly targeting the group of folks that were part of that lawsuit, I think it’s clear that they’re trying to send a message for the community to not organize themselves, and I think many large companies have utilized the need of the immigrant community for a workplace and the need for them to provide for families that, when they become organized and when they’re able to reclaim their humanity and their dignity by requesting and demanding a safe space at work, and this is one of the outcomes. This is how, although there is a settlement, they are trying to send a message.
I think, ultimately, the community’s fear is not just the raids. I think the reality of the community is that we’re coming from a weekend where people that look like us, people that look like our children, people that look like my community and people that look like my loved ones were shot at a Walmart for the simple reason that they look like me, and they look like the community in Mississippi, and they look like the brown communities and black communities all around the country.
To say that the raids are the only reason why our community is feeling that way is also giving a lot of power to the Trump administration. What we should be asking – for the accountability of why these attacks are increasing in the country and why is it that we no longer feel safe on the first day of school when we take our children to school, why is it that we don’t feel safe when we do grocery shopping, and we are at risk for the simple reason of being someone who isn’t white, and that is another of the main key points that this administration is not being held accountable for.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You bring up an excellent point about the power that people are giving to the Trump administration in the face or in the wake of these recent incidents, not just the massacres that have occurred against Latino people in other states, but also against… in regard to workplace retaliation in food processing plants, because that’s not an isolated incident either. There were at least two other plants, one in Salem, Ohio, and another in Morristown, Tennessee, where ICE raids followed complaints of worker conditions, and many of those workers were Latino or undocumented, or Latino and undocumented workers.
This was before the Trump administration even came to power, and one of the largest incidences of that happening occurred in Smithfield in Tar Heel, North Carolina, in 2008, where workers, Latino and African-American workers worked together since 1998, fought against racial and sexual harassment against both Latino and African-American workers, threatened Latino workers with deportation if they spoke out and threatened them with deportation if they worked with African-American workers to unionize. And finally, in 2008, Smithfield workers, Latino and African-Americans did organize and joined the union, but that was followed with two ICE raids.
Speak more on this issue of needing to hold the entire system accountable, not just this administration, but the entire system accountable for how it treats the least among us in regard to workers, undocumented immigrant or otherwise.
CYNTHIA GARCIA: Yeah, and I think you bring a great point on how this is not the first raid at this scale. It is, in fact, one of the largest raids in a single state. It is definitely in the past 10 years the most damage that we’ve seen to our community coming from all small towns in Mississippi, but I think the accountability piece also comes from the employers. When we’re thinking that the employees don’t get to unionize or they don’t get to call out this treatment and these abuses, and when they finally do, there is a retaliation that looks like what happened on Wednesday night and on Wednesday throughout the day.
I think the community has the power to call that out as we see this, as we identify the trends and as we see the corporations that are profiting from brown and black communities, and when they are to be held accountable or they are called out about these abuses, they retaliate against their employees. I think they believe that because it’s a small area that this was going to go unnoticed, but we are at a point where we’re all against the system that continues to take advantage of the least represented and the most de-franchised communities in the country, and so we are going to stand up for each other. We are going to show up for immigrants, for black parties and for all the minorities that are struggling right now and that have been struggling for decades and even since the very origins of this country.
I think that leaves us to how can people help and holding these elected officials and holding corporations like the companies that allow their employees to be detained and to leave their children at home without anybody to care for them.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Before I ask you this question formally and let you tell us how we can help, I also have to ask, has any official or any member of the managerial staff of Koch Foods Incorporated, have anyone in the company been detained or charged with violating any kind of employment laws in regard to hiring undocumented or, even in this case, underage workers?
CYNTHIA GARCIA: For me, I think from my knowledge, and, like I said, it doesn’t help that I’m not currently on the ground, but to my knowledge that is not something that happened. I think we have seen time after time that the attacks happened directly to the people that are trying to provide for their families, and it’s so easy to put the lens of focus in to the folks that are working, trying to provide. And so, whatever happens and however the large corporations settle their own situations with Homeland Security or however they settle their I-9 audits that they go through to be able to identify who allegedly is undocumented in their workspace, that has never been made public because that is how they protect themselves. That is also how the administration protects them, focusing on creating a narrative of how the ones breaking the law and the ones that are toxic to our community out of the folks that are just trying to have a decent place for work.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Finally, Cynthia, how do regular people who feel that they have no power in the face of ICE in this administration and even the corporations, how do regular people help?
CYNTHIA GARCIA: Yeah. MIRA is a local organization in Mississippi that is leading a lot of the work on the ground. There is a fundraiser page already on their ActBlue that you’re able to support El Pueblo, you’re able to support ACLU, again, MIRA and other organizations that are providing the legal support, that are providing the housing and feeding the families that are currently without a breadwinner, and there’s so many other ways also. There is a link where you’re able to sign up if you have legal resources, so, for example, if you’re an attorney and you may not be able to make it down to Mississippi, but you’re able to provide any kind of support, there is a worksheet that is being posted under the MIRA website for them to be able to identify who can support.
Regular folks who may not have that legal experience are still able to support. If you’re bilingual, you’re able to support translating for the families. If you speak a native tongue from Central America or South America, like Guatemalan folks that have different native tongues, they are seeking out for folks that are able to communicate with the families because some of these families also speak their own native language, and it’s harder to communicate and go through this process with.
There is going to be continued updates as they’re able identify and as we’re able to support also the folks on the ground of how else we can mobilize resources and how else we can continue to uplift the work, but I think accountability for the elected officials that are letting these communities experience this needs to also be another of the ask, like how do we engage to make sure that we don’t continue to make a profit out of the detention of people who are trying to make a living and trying to be part of the community? These are folks that are living in our communities and these are folks who shouldn’t be part of this system that continues to profit out of their pain and the trauma.
Through United We Dream, there is a website called closethecamps.us that will allow you and guide you to find out where are the detention centers near your community and connect with other local organizations that are also doing action and demonstrations to shut down places like this one and also make the ask to protect the immigrant communities from the continuous attacks that we are experiencing currently.
We know this is not going to be the last raid, so we’re also supporting folks on the ground by providing know your rights and providing preparedness packets that allow folks to make a plan. Those are the tough conversations, but we must take steps to make sure that, in the event that we see another raid in any of the communities in the country, that we do our very best to support folks to mobilize, and make sure that we don’t see more images of children not having somewhere to go because of these attacks.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I wish we could spend more time talking about all the different ways that we could help, but we are out of time, unfortunately, but we will continue to watch this story and continue to keep our eye on what is being done against the immigrant community, all immigrants and all marginalized people in this country. Thank you so much, Cynthia Garcia, for taking the time to come and speak with us today about this issue.
CYNTHIA GARCIA: Thank you, and I just want to remind our immigrant community, undocumented or not undocumented, that we’re here for each other and that we’re going to stand up. We’re resilient, and we have crossed too many barriers and too many borders to give up and give up our humanity and our dignity.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: With that, this is Jacqueline Luqman thanking you for watching. This is The Real News Network from Baltimore.