LAUREL, Miss. - In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally. Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.
As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been "identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S."
The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration's enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.
The mass rapid-fire hearings after the Postville raid took place in a temporary court facility on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An interpreter was later sharply critical of the proceedings, saying the immigrants did not understand the charges against them.
An immigrant rights group in Jackson, Miss., the state capital, was critical of Monday's raid, saying families with children were involved.
"It's horrific what ICE is doing to these families and these communities," said Shuya Ohno, a spokesman for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. "It's just hard to imagine that this is the United States of America."
In Laurel on Monday afternoon, several dozen family members of immigrants waited for news of their relatives at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. There were several small children. A priest at the church who identified himself only as Father Sergio refused to allow interviews with the families or answer any questions, saying only: "People are afraid. We need to calm them. There are mothers and children involved."