US immigration officials have raided seven meat processing plants in the southern state of Mississippi, arresting 680 mostly Latino workers in the largest workplace sting in at least a decade.
The raids on Wednesday happened just hours before President Donald Trump visited El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino border city where a man linked to an online screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 people dead.
“On a day when we seek unifying words and acts to heal the nation’s broken heart, President Trump allows so many families and communities to be torn apart,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
Trump has adopted a hard line on immigration – both legal and illegal – since coming to office in 2017. He has also labelled immigrants from South America as “criminals”.
About 600 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents fanned out across the plants operated by five companies, surrounding the perimeters to prevent workers from fleeing. ICE said the raids were planned months ago.
“The execution of federal search warrants today was simply about enforcing the rule of law in our state and throughout our great country,” US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst said in a statement.
In Morton, about 65km east of City of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, workers filled three buses – two for men and one for women – at a Koch Foods Inc plant.
Those arrested were taken to a military hangar to be processed for immigration violations.
About 70 families, friends and residents waved goodbye and shouted, “Let them go! Let them go!” Later, two more buses arrived.