When ICE stormed the food processing plants on August 7, 2019, to arrest hundreds of workers, including many indigenous Guatemalan immigrants, it knew exactly what it was doing, because the agency planned the raids for the first day of public school in the state. Local media reported at the time that kids came home from school to empty houses, leaving neighbors “and even strangers” to drive them to a community center to be looked after until they could be reunited with their parents or other relatives.
“Government, please show some heart,” cried one 11-year-old, WJTV reported. “I need my dad and mommy. My dad didn’t do anything, he’s not a criminal.” They would not be reunited for months. The Center for Law and Policy (CLASP) said in a report that children, many of them U.S. citizens, “showed immediate signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” following the raids. “Children of all ages dramatically changed their daily routines,” the report said. “Children stopped playing outside and often begged their parents not to leave the house. In both Mississippi and Texas, children missed several days of school following the raids, and their grades suffered.”
Too many others continue to remain separated, IAJE Mississippi said. “One such case is that of Mr. Baldomero Orozco Juarez, one of the immigrant workers arrested in the August 7 raids, who has spent the entire year in ICE’s detention camp,” the group said in a statement. “In an April letter to Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, his wife said of his case, ‘It has already been an injustice that he is still detained after nine months and he has not committed a single crime in this country. Now he might be sentenced to death because of the virus?’”
IAJE Mississippi said dozens of raid victims are still being held at a privately operated detention facility in Louisiana, where guards have assaulted immigrants who have protested their continued detention amid the pandemic. Mother Jones’ Noah Lanard reported in June that one “Cameroonian asylum seeker who has been detained for nearly 18 months, whom I’ll call Wilfred because he did not give permission to use his name, reported that he still had bruises and trouble swallowing after guards ‘climbed’ onto his neck.”
ICE claims that 70 detained people at Richwood Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, though we know it’s likely higher because the agency has deliberately refused to test detainees. “Two guards at the jail died in late April and at least two people in ICE custody at Richwood were hospitalized with COVID-19,” Mother Jones continued.
“We’re still standing, fighting for our families, but we have questions,” IAJE Mississippi’s Lorena Quiroz-Lewis said in the statement. “How can it be that one year later, our brothers and sisters are still in ICE prison camps? That workers are still vulnerable to ICE threats?” The group and advocates across the state say they plan to mark Friday’s anniversary with vigils to call for protections for workers, reunification of families that are still separated, and the defunding of mass deportation policies.
“Mississippians have no problem calling out white supremacy, it’s a tradition here,” IAJE Mississippi’s Jessica Manrriquez said. “Indigenous communities have no problem identifying the racist colonial worldview that is attacking their families, they’ve seen it before. It’s time that the rest of the country join us in demanding worker and migrant justice. That means defunding ICE, and it means indigenous and undocumented workers are protected when they speak out about abuse.”