Trauma and Resilience – One Year After “The Day that ICE Came” to Mississippi Chicken Plants

August 6, 2020, Jackson, MS – “A year after our communities experienced the largest worksite raids in U.S. history, we are still standing. We’re still here.” That’s how Mississippi leader Lorena Quiroz describes the situation, one year after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 680 workers in the largest single state immigration raid in U.S. history. 

On August 7, 2020, the Immigrant Alliance for Justice & Equity of Mississippi is hosting a commemoration event in Jackson that shows the remarkable resilience of this community and these workers, whose jobs are now deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The experiences of Mississippi children and families, faith leaders, service providers, and other first responders are documented in a recent report from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “The Day that ICE Came: How Worksite Raids Are Once Again Harming Children and Families.”

“While all eyes have been focused on the southwest border, immigration raids have also separated families in the interior of the United States, and the American people need to know about it,” said Wendy Cervantes, director of immigration and immigrant families at CLASP, and lead author of the report. “Worksite raids are an immoral tactic that brings needless and lasting harm to immigrant families and children, including many American citizens.”

Father Odel Medina at St. Anne’s Church in Carthage said: “A year after the raid, the community continues to suffer sad consequences: family separation, underemployment, and today they are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. They cannot afford to simply stay home. The immoral thing is that a year ago the government wanted to remove them as ‘illegal,’ but today they call them ‘indispensable workers,’ because if they do not produce, other American families will not have food on their tables. This pandemic has revealed what the government wants to deny: how important and essential immigrants are, and the great contributions they make to the country’s progress.”

The Day that ICE Came” documents three major trends in Mississippi and other states recovering from immigration raids, with implications for broader society.

Children, families, and communities experienced profoundly destabilizing traumas with lasting impacts. Families separated by detention and deportation; harm to children’s mental and physical health; economic hardship and stress on parents, which also undercuts children’s wellbeing; as well as pressure on providers and community leaders created an overall feeling of destruction in these communities. 

The Trump administration used worksite immigration raids to harass and intimidate immigrant workers, the majority of whom are parents to U.S. citizen children. The operations were designed to be an aggressive show of force against humble workers. ICE did not even follow its own “humanitarian” guidelines to keep children safe, such as notifying social service agencies in advance, and promptly screening arrested individuals to identify sole caretakers of minor children or others eligible for release on humanitarian grounds. 

The local response to each of these raids also revealed another side of America–the power of community and resilience. In all three states, churches, service providers, and community members all came together to respond to the raids in each location, aligned in a vision that stands in stark contrast to the divisiveness of the raids. It is a vision where immigrants and their families are recognized as valued members of our communities, all children are deserving of protection and support, and members of the community work together to help each other out. 

CLASP’s Cervantes concluded: “I will never forget the pain on parents’ faces as they talked about their family’s experiences during and after these raids. The aggressiveness of these militaristic operations; the young children stranded while their parents were detained; the expense of fighting legal cases while also losing income; the agonizing decisions about the future; and the mental trauma experienced by each and every member of the family have been truly devastating. Every parent I talked to was far more concerned for their children’s wellbeing than they were about their own.”

See the complete report, “The Day that ICE Came: How Worksite Raids Are Once Again Harming Children and Families,” and executive summary.