08/26/08 Stop the raids! Hundreds arrested in Mississippi

Repeating the tactics they used to arrest hundreds of undocumented workers in Postville, Iowa, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided an electronics factory and poultry plant in Mississippi, detaining hundreds of workers.

As in Postville, some of the children of the workers found both their parents in jail, with no one to look after them. The Mississippi workers may face even harsher penalties than the Postville workers - many of whom were sentenced to six month terms in Federal prison - due to a new state law that makes it a felony to work without authorization in Mississippi. SB 2988 imposes a one to five year prison sentence and hefty fines of $1,000 to $10,000.

Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA) is working with the families of the detained workers, but needs your financial support (More about the Mississippi raids and MIRA's work below)

Contact your Federal representatives and Senators - demand an end to the raids and comprehensive immigration reform now!

 Humanitarian Crisis in Mississippi:

ICE Detains Hundreds in Workplace Raid

Monday, August 25, 2008

 

After answering the phone, Bill Chandler, director of MIRA! (the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, based in Jackson), blurted out, "The ICE raid is in progress right now at Howard Industries, in Laurel, Mississippi." Laurel is a small town of about 18,000 people; Howard Industries employs about 800 workers.

 

Earlier this morning, Department of Homeland Security agents began descending on different work sites in Mississippi to unleash another brutal immigration raid. According to Mr. Chandler, DHS began renting hotel space over the past few days, indicating the presence of hundreds of Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

 

MIRA also reports ICE placed the Southern Hens poultry plant under lockdown, which employs nearly 2,000 people in Mossell, Mississippi. Mossell is between Hattiesburg and Laurel on I-59.

 

And on Sunday night ICE set up roadblocks near the Wal-Mart in Hattiesburg, an illegal detentive stop to check for immigration status of passersby's.

 

ICE agents have already gone into the Howard Industries plant in Laurel, where some 800 workers manufacture ballast for office lights, neon tubes and transformers. Approximately half the workers there are Latinos. Howard Industries has three plants; one in Laurel, Magee and Ellisville. ICE also raided Howard corporate offices in Ellisville.

 

ICE has arrested so many workers at the Laurel Howard plant that operations have been shut down. MIRA has already received reports of scores of children being left behind without their parents who ICE arrested at the Howard Industries plant.

 

ICE Raid, SB 2988 and MS's Inglorious Present

 

The brutal ICE raid now taking place in Laurel and other parts harkens back to Mississippi's shameful past of Jim Crow segregation, police brutality and violence. The current state laws, the national anti-immigrant climate and hangovers from Mississippi's inglorious past made Jones County ripe for ICE to conduct their usual raids that trample on constitutional rights and communities.

 

Laurel has the distinction of being located in Jones County, headquarters for two notorious racist and anti-immigrant groups, the KKK and MFIRE, the Mississippi branch of FAIR, the national anti-immigrant group.

 

Earlier this year the Mississippi legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Senate bill 2988, the most draconian employer sanctions law passed to date in the U.S. that further criminalizes workers, especially immigrants, and opens the door for employers to discriminate against Latinos and others.

 

SB 2988 makes it a felony to work without authorization in Mississippi. SB 2988 imposes a one to five year prison sentence and hefty fines of $1,000 to $10,000. No one has yet been charged under SB 2988.

 

Today's ICE raid however opens the door to using both federal and state laws, including SB 2988, in a new way. This has everyone on edge. Mr. Chandler added, "Now we are all waiting to see what will happen to people being arrested at Howard Industries."

 

Support Needed to Counter ICE Raid Impacts

 

Mr. Chandler said, "We had been expecting the raids, either on the coast or in Hattiesburg. We were getting information that ICE was in hotels in the coast and other preparations were going on in Hattiesburg."

 

MIRA began holding community meetings on the Mississippi coast and Hattiesburg areas all last week, getting the word out for the last ten days that an ICE raid was underway. MIRA advised workers of their Constitutional rights, to remain silent if arrested, and to prepare for the crackdown.

 

Now MIRA is seeking the help of lawyers. There is deep worry among the community about the raids and their aftermath.

 

MIRA has prepared social services and legal help for all persons, including families and others, affected by the ICE raid.

 

Bill closed by saying, "Most of what we are getting today is that ICE is focusing on Jones County; but haven't had calls from all areas. We have had calls from chicken plants in and around Laurel. We had expected the raids to occur at chicken plants; it was a surprise, it's a different industry. Howard Industries gets state and federal funding to operate."

 

Support MIRA: Stop the ICE Raids

 

MIRA is now in meeting with families affected by the raid to assess what their needs are and also working with lawyers to deal with arraignments of workers swept up in the raid. MIRA needs attorneys to volunteer their services and help the detained workers.

 

Please visit the MIRA website to make an on-line donation at:

www.yourmira.org

 

Send in a check or money order, payable to "MIRA," write in the memo "Relief for families affected by raids" and mail to:

MIRA!

PO 1104

Jackson, MS 39215