Immigration officials defend Mississippi ICE raids as part of larger investigation

Immigration officials defend Mississippi ICE raids as part of larger investigation
© Aaron Schwartz

Immigration officials on Sunday defended the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that resulted in 680 workers at Mississippi food processing plants being detained and said they were still investigating the employers.

“We’re in the middle of the criminal investigation, these cases will be pursued,” acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

He said DHS has the names of employers and they will be targeted. 

“It’s a criminal investigation of the employers exploiting…and skirting our laws,” McAleenan said. “You can’t ignore that people are there without proper permission to the in the United States.” 

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Acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperRepublicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' Saagar Enjeti: Harris campaign 'is failing because she doesn't stand for anything' MORE the raids are part of a “pending investigation,” and the intent is to target the employers. 

“But it’s two-fold, I think the American people need to understand these people seeking a better life [are] exploited by cartels, then further exploited by U.S. companies,” Morgan said. “But that’s only the first element of it.”

“These are not undocumented immigrants, they are illegal immigrants...I think words matter,” he added. 

When asked by NBC's Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddIntelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations Brown confirms he won't enter 2020 race: 'I think it's a good field' National security adviser says ISIS leader's death marks 'great day' for US, world MORE if he wished the raids didn't happen last week, given the "emotions of the country right now," McAleenan did acknowledge that the timing was "unfortunate."

Todd also asked McAleenan if there was any talk of delaying the raids in the wake of rising fear in Hispanic communities following the shooting that killed 22 people in the Hispanic community of El Paso, Texas. 

"In terms of the ICE operations these are enforcement operations that are part of their daily cycle. Something like this has been planned for over a year," he said.

"This is a criminal investigation with 14 federal warrants issue by a judge. ICE had to follow through with it. It was already planned and in motion." 

Videos showed some Mississippi children sleeping in a community gym after their parents were detained some children crying out asking for their parents. 

“This was done with sensitivity,” McAleenan said, regarding the raids. 

He said about 30 people were released on site at the plant and more were released later for humanitarian reasons. 

Morgan said a video of a girl crying for her father who was taken in the raid was emotional, but “done on purpose to show a picture like that.” 

“I understand the girl’s upset and I get that, but her father committed a crime,” he said. 

He added that the girl’s mother was home and she was reunited with her that night.

--This report was updated at 12:39 p.m.