(AP) — Effects of the largest immigration raid in at least a decade are likely to ripple for years through six Mississippi small towns that host poultry plants.
A store owner who caters to Latino poultry plant workers fears he will have to close. A school superintendent is trying to rebuild trust with the Spanish-speaking community. And the CEO of a local bank says the effects are likely to touch every business in her town.
More than 100 civil rights activists, union organizers and clergy members in Mississippi denounced the raid, but the state's Republican Gov. Phil Bryant commended federal immigration authorities for the arrests, tweeting that anyone in the country illegally has to "bear the responsibility of that federal violation."
Officials said 680 people were initially detained during Wednesday's operation. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement sent more than 300 of those people home by dawn Thursday, with notices to appear before immigration judges, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.
In the coming months, as those people await hearings, they're unlikely to be able to work, and local churches are gathering food and money to provide aid.
Juan Garcia and his wife own Hondumex, a grocery store and restaurant catering to Latinos in downtown Morton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the capital of Jackson. Sales have been terrible since the raid, Garcia said Thursday, surrounded by plantains, pastries and specially butchered meat. Garcia said even those who have been released will have trouble before they go to court.
"All the workers, the people that have been taken, they're not going to be able to spend money," Garcia said. "They're not going to be able to work in the plant."
Koch Foods, one of the country's largest poultry producers based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, said in a statement that it follows strict procedures to make sure full-time employees are eligible to work in the country.
Gabriela Rosales, a six-year resident of Morton who knows some of those detained, said she understands that "there's a process and a law" for those living in the country illegally. "But the thing that they (ICE) did is devastating," she said. "It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time."
The Rev. Mike O'Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, said he waited outside the Peco Foods plant in the city until 4 a.m. Thursday for workers returning by bus. O'Brien said he visited parishioners whose relatives had been arrested. He said he also drove home someone who had hidden from authorities inside the plant.
"The people are all afraid," he said. "Their doors are locked, and they won't answer their doors."
Children whose parents were detained were being cared for by other family members and friends, O'Brien said.
"They're circling the wagons that way and taking care of each other," he said.
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