The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The ICE raids in Mississippi may indefinitely separate some children from their parents

Elizabeth Iraheta, a Salvadoran immigrant who works at Koch Foods Inc., says she now has to take care of a 12-year-old whose mother was detained. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

An agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to reassure adults comforting a 12-year-old girl that the girl, Angie, would see her mother again. The mother is one of nearly 700 people arrested in Mississippi on Wednesday during a crackdown on the employment of undocumented immigrants at a number of food-processing plants.

“Her mom got on the bus. We took her mom’s documents, all right,” the agent said, according to video obtained by The Washington Post. “She’s going to be processed, because she doesn’t have papers to be here legally.” Since the girl’s mother was her primary caretaker, he predicted, she would probably be released that afternoon with a notice to appear before an immigration judge sometime in the future.

“I’m going to tell you something,” he added. “She’s not going to be deported because she has a United States citizen child.”

Footage of the children of people arrested during the raids quickly spread on social media. Members of the community scrambled to ensure that the children had places to stay and food to eat on the off-chance that their parents weren’t quickly released, an effort complicated by the children’s understandable fear and frustration.

But is that agent’s statement about Angie’s mother true? Is it true that Angie’s mother would be allowed to remain in the United States?

According to an immigration attorney who spoke with The Post, it probably isn’t.

David Leopold is the former general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a practicing attorney in Cleveland. He spoke with The Post by phone.

The agent’s prediction that the mother would be released quickly that day, Leopold said, was probably accurate. In fact, as the Clarion Ledger reported Thursday, about 300 of the 680 people who had been detained were released, many of whom presumably had children waiting.

“If she is the caretaker they will release her on bond, likely with an ankle bracelet on, with a GPS monitor,” he said. “The GPS monitor means that she can be at home and she has to stay in contact with ICE. They’ll probably give her what’s called call-in notices. They’ll have her on a supervision order, and she’ll have to report periodically, once a month maybe, to an ICE agent.”

Unless there is criminal history, he said, the mother would probably be allowed to remain free until her court date. That could take months, though, given the number of detentions Wednesday — the most in a state in a single day in history. A judge may be detailed to the cases to work through them quickly.

Asked how likely the agent’s prediction is — that the mother will be allowed to remain in the United States over the long-term — Leopold was pessimistic.

“Under this administration, I would say, nil. Almost none,” he said. “A high probability that she’ll be deported. And the reason is that this is what they do. They deport the easiest people to deport, and those are people who have no criminal history and who they can find fast.”

There are possible ways in which she could be allowed to remain, he said, including if the company for which she worked had violated labor or wage laws, actions to which the mother could have been a witness. She could have asylum protection or have been the victim of human trafficking.

“Let’s be really clear,” Leopold said. “Just because she’s undocumented — or seems to be undocumented — doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a right to be in the United States, period. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a right to be here.”

If none of those things were the case, though, the odds of her remaining are slim.

If any of the children in Mississippi were unfortunate enough to have both parents arrested, only one would probably have been released Wednesday. Leopold noted a recent story in which a 3-year-old migrant child was asked to pick which parent would be allowed to remain in the United States to care for her. Some children of parents arrested in Mississippi might have had that decision made for them by the government. The parent who isn’t released probably will be held in detention — most likely without bond — until their court date. If they had an outstanding deportation order, that deportation could happen much more quickly.

“This is the fear they live with every day,” Leopold said of the arrests. “You can’t discount, even though mom is released to take care of her with an ankle bracelet, you can’t discount the trauma of what this is all about to these families and particularly to these children.”

U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi addressed the raids at a news conference. He singled out the companies that allegedly hired the undocumented workers.

“To those who take advantage of illegal aliens, to those who use illegal aliens for a competitive advantage or to make a quick buck, we have something to say to you,” Hurst said. “If we find that you have violated federal criminal law, we’re coming after you.”

The Post has documented a number of examples of one corporation that has employed undocumented workers in the past: the Trump Organization. President Trump’s private company has denied being aware that its employees lacked documentation, something the employees find hard to believe.

While the raids were occurring, Trump was preparing to travel to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso to visit communities where mass shootings occurred last weekend. The alleged shooter in El Paso might have been motivated by a desire to kill immigrants from Mexico, according to a screed published online before the attack.

“It’s very grim,” Leopold said of the raids. “And on a day when Trump is supposed to be comforting victims of a racist shooting targeting Latinos.”