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“Thank You For Taking Care of My Daughter”: Ordinary Mississippians Are Helping Families Shattered by Mass ICE Raids

“The kids were tired. They were sitting alone on the side of the road. I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”

by Gaby Del Valle and Mimi Dwyer
Aug 9 2019, 3:30pm

Nearly half of the 680 people arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a massive raid of Mississippi meat processing plants have been released. But the community is still reeling from the aftermath of the raids, with some children so traumatized by their parents’ arrests that they refused to attend school the next day.

The Department of Justice confirmed Thursday that 300 of the people who have been released since the Wednesday raids, 30 were released on “humanitarian grounds.” An additional 270 were processed for immigration violations and returned to the plants where they had been arrested.

But status of more than 300 others who were arrested on Wednesday is unclear. ICE did not respond to VICE News’s request for comment.

In Morton and Forest, two of the towns targeted by the raids, members of the community have begun collecting food, cash, diapers, and other supplies for families who were affected.

“We opened our doors”

“We’ve opened our doors, inviting the kids whose parents weren’t home when they got home from school,” Jordan Barnes, the owner of a gym in Forest, Mississippi told VICE News.

More than 20 volunteers showed up to help watch over the kids, Barnes said. By Thursday morning, the children who stayed in the gym had been reunited with their parents, who had been released from immigration custody.

Other kids waited outside the chicken plants — some until after midnight, Teresia Ealy, who gave snacks to the children outside the Koch Foods plant, told VICE News. Ealy found out about the raid from her nephew, who, like Ibarreta, saw helicopters flying over the plant.

“The kids were tired. They were sitting alone on the side of the road,” Ealy said. “I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ I have kids myself, so I know how it would feel if they come home and I’m not there, or I come home and my kids are gone.”

By 1 a.m. Wednesday, many of the children’s parents had been released from immigration custody, Ealy said.

Acting ICE director Matthew Albence told reporters that some parents would be released with ankle monitors for the duration of their immigration hearings.

Kids missing school

Elizabeth Ibarreta, an employee of the Koch Foods plant in Morton, found herself taking care of her coworker and roommate’s daughter in the wake of the raids. Ibarreta, a U.S. citizen, told VICE News that wasn’t at work that day because she was supposed to go on vacation. She passed by the plant as helicopters were flying over the plant and immediately realized what was going on.

Ibarreta posted about the raid on Facebook, hoping to warn those who hadn’t yet arrived at the plant and trying to prevent as many arrests as possible. But one of her coworkers, an undocumented woman who rents a room in Ibarreta’s home, was already at work.

The woman, whose name Ibarreta did not disclose, was arrested — and Ibarreta was left to take care of her 12-year-old daughter and explain what had happened.

“She was desperate and worried for her mother.”

“She was desperate and worried for her mother,” Ibarreta said of the girl. “She didn’t want to go to school. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone. You know, in a kid’s mind — the fear, the panic, the shame that she’ll get teased at school over of what happened. Because of that, she didn’t go to school today.”

More than 200 kids didn’t attend school in the counties where the ICE raids took place, BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday. The Canton school district, 63 of 400 students enrolled in English as a second language courses didn’t show up that day, district officials told BuzzFeed. Several students reportedly stayed home because of rumors that ICE would show up at schools to arrest undocumented parents.

Ibarreta, whose roommate’s daughter refused to attend school on Thursday, tried to wait outside the Koch plant until the girl’s mother was released, but she said the woman was discharged to a different plant instead.

The woman didn’t make it home until 6 a.m. the morning after the arrests.

“When I went into her room, she started crying,” Ibarreta said of the woman. “She hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for taking care of my daughter.’”

Cover: Friends and family console each other while U.S. immigration officials raided Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)