The conflict over immigration policies in the United States continued this week when on Wednesday, ICE agents conducted the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history in Mississippi. According to The Washington Post, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided seven different worksites in six cities across the state of Mississippi. The worksites were agricultural processing plants that were part of a year-long investigation into illegal employment of immigrants in the state. The raids resulted in 680 arrests, though it is not clear how many individuals were targeted and how many were collateral arrests. After being arrested the individuals were moved to detainment centers where their cases will be reviewed.
As with many of the immigration issues in the U.S. there are two very different sides to the story. The New York Times reported that many photos and videos were posted showing children crying, and groups of people crying either as the buses left or after they had been detained. The Associated Press quoted a resident of Morton saying, “But the thing that they (ICE) did is devastating. It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time.” However, while these concerns are valid, officials were quick to tell their side of the narrative. ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the Associated Press that “About 270 were released after being taken to a military hangar where they had been brought, and 30 were released at the plants.” He claimed those released were let go for “humanitarian factors” and parents were given priority. Even before the raid, ICE officials indicated that “many people would be released with court orders and would not be held.” Mike Hurst, U.S. attorney, summed up the ICE position towards illegal employment is his statement to The Washington Post: “To [the businesses] who use illegal aliens for a competitive advantage or to make a quick buck… If we find you have violated federal criminal law, we are coming for you.”
Immigration raids such as the ones in Mississippi have complex implications. On the one hand, there are people working and living within the country illegally, and these people came and stayed even though they knew it was against the law. In that perspective, ICE is just enforcing laws. However, the human side of the story is that these raids rip parents from their children and even if they are reunited, it can be a scary and upsetting experience. Most illegal immigrants come to the U.S. to get away from danger and start a better life. When these people are deported, it sends them back into the hardship they came from and strips them of their new hope. The solution to the U.S. immigration problem lies in finding a compromise. Immigration does need to be checked and regulated to help protect the United States and its citizens. Illegal activity cannot just be ignored. However, these illegal immigrants need to be treated humanely. The U.S. needs to work to find ways to process them quickly and help guide them to legal citizenship if at all possible. Additionally, the U.S. needs to speed up processing at the border by increasing manpower and resources as this may lessen the number of people who choose not to wait and enter illegally.
These raids come at a time at which immigration numbers are reaching critical levels. According to The Washington Post, ICE has around 54,000 people detained in facilities only designed for 42,000. To help slow the number of people that choose to enter illegally, the U.S. government has adopted stricter policies against illegal employment. This week’s raids may have been the largest, but they were certainly not the first. The Washington Post listed several previous raids, including a raid on Koch Foods in 2007, several large-scale raids on the meatpacking industry launched by President George W. Bush, and a raid last June where 400 workers were arrested at a different meat processing plant.
Immigration will continue to be an issue in the U.S. for as long as people continue to enter illegally. The U.S. must be firm and protective of its own citizens and interests but find a way to balance this with the humane treatment of immigrants. The U.S. must continue to be harsh on companies that illegally allow immigrants to work. Most importantly, the U.S. must find a way to create a faster, more efficient process at the border. Doing so will improve the conditions of those in detainment, lessen the number that need to be detained overall, and discourage illegal crossings.