House Democrat criticizes Mississippi chicken plant raids

JACKSON, Miss. — A U.S. House committee chairman says it’s “disappointing” that President Donald Trump’s administration is selectively enforcing laws to apprehend immigrant workers who are in the U.S. illegally but not prosecute employers.

Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and House Homeland Security Committee chairman, made the criticism during a hearing about federal immigration raids in August at seven Mississippi chicken processing plants where agents arrested 680 mostly Guatemalan workers.

Witnesses called the enforcement action unnecessary, inhumane and demeaning. Criticism was particularly focused on the continuing trauma of children who had no parents to return home to.

“It is not Congress’ policy to separate families and mothers from children,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat. However, Jere Miles, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said that people who are accused of crimes are arrested and separated from their families every day.

Cliff Johnson, a University of Mississippi law professor, questioned the decision to indict 119 people so far on federal criminal charges including illegal re-entry to the United States and document fraud. Many are already pleading guilty. He and others criticized federal officials for failing to prosecute companies or executives.

Miles said officials were analyzing a large amount of data seized from the six companies where agents served search warrants.

“We’re not satisfied with going after the low-level people, but as I’m sure you all understand, it is a lengthy process,” Miles said.

He said he believes that arresting people who entered the United States illegally to seek jobs would deter others from coming.

“When we take some of the economic incentive away, it is going to have an impact,” Miles said.

He also repeatedly stated that agents had identified 400 cases of identity fraud from immigrants using stolen or fraudulent documents to gain employment, noting that was also a crime.

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press