Washington: US immigration authorities in raids on food processing companies in the state of Mississippi detained 680 undocumented immigrants, the biggest such operation in at least a decade, a senior official said.
"As a result of today's operation, approximately 680 aliens were detained by HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) special agents. Some are being identified as being eligible for an alternative to detention based on humanitarian reasons," the office of Mike Hurst, US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said in a statement on Wednesday, noting that the people were taken into custody at seven separate locations.
"These individuals will be physically returned by HSI to their original place of detention and will still be required to appear before a federal immigration judge who will ultimately determine whether or not they will be deported."
Hurst said at a press conference later that this was the largest raid of its kind in at least a decade, adding that it was the largest action by security forces in a single state in US history.
He added that although the US was a country of immigrants, it is also a nation of laws and authorities would continue to ensure that the laws are followed. He said that whereas the US welcomed foreigners, they must obey the law and they must come here legally.
The 680 illegal immigrants who were detained will now be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will decide whether they will be housed at detention centre until they can be deported or will be released while the courts decide whether or not they will be allowed to remain in the US.
HSI Special Agent in Charge in New Orleans Jere T. Miles, who headed the operation, said that the children of detained immigrants will be placed in the custody of relatives in the US or, if that cannot be done, the parents will be released so that they can care for the minors while their asylum requests are being processed.
Each case will be handled on an individual basis, depending on the circumstances, Miles said.
The detentions were made at the workplaces of the migrants, and these firms included a chicken processing plant owned by the Peco company in the town of Bay Springs.
Peco confirmed in a statement that ICE inspected that processing plant and two other installations it operates in Mississippi, one of them in Canton and the other in Sebastopol, adding that the firm was cooperating fully with the authorities in their investigation.
The company said that it complies with all prevailing immigration laws and with the federal E-Verify programme to avoid hiring undocumented migrants.
Workplace detentions of immigrants have increased and in fiscal 2018 ICE launched 6,848 investigations on this issue, a 300-plus percent increase compared with the previous year, when there were 1,691 investigations.