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Immigration raids to have long-term effects on poultry towns

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MORTON, Miss. (AP) — Effects of the largest immigration raid in at least a decade are likely to ripple for years through six Mississippi small towns that host poultry plants.

A store owner who caters to Latino poultry plant workers fears he will have to close. A school superintendent is trying to rebuild trust with the Spanish-speaking community. And the CEO of a local bank says the effects are likely to touch every business in her town.

More than 100 civil rights activists, union organizers and clergy members in Mississippi denounced the raid, but the state's Republican Gov. Phil Bryant commended federal immigration authorities for the arrests, tweeting that anyone in the country illegally has to "bear the responsibility of that federal violation."

Immigration Food Plant Raids

A man is taken into custody at a Koch Foods Inc. plant in Morton, Miss., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Officials said 680 people were initially detained during Wednesday's operation. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement sent more than 300 of those people home by dawn Thursday, with notices to appear before immigration judges, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.

In the coming months, as those people await hearings, they're unlikely to be able to work, and local churches are gathering food and money to provide aid.

Juan Garcia and his wife own Hondumex, a grocery store and restaurant catering to Latinos in downtown Morton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the capital of Jackson. Sales have been terrible since the raid, Garcia said Thursday, surrounded by plantains, pastries and specially butchered meat. Garcia said even those who have been released will have trouble before they go to court.

Immigration Food Plant Raids

In this Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo, Pastor Hugo Villegas, right, and his son Pablo Villegas, second from right, assist Cade Vowell, left, and his sister Addison Vowell, second from left, unload donated items for the pantry at the Carlisle Crisis Center in Forest, Miss. The center, a ministry of Scott County Baptist Association, says they will need more food items to help out the families affected by the fallout of Wednesday's raid by U.S. immigration officials at poultry plants Koch Foods and PH Foods in neighboring Morton. The raids were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

In this Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo, Jesse Van Fleet, left, assists Jasmine Ward and Myles Wright, 5, of Jackson, unload donated items for the pantry at the Carlisle Crisis Center in Forest, Miss. The center, a ministry of Scott County Baptist Association, says they will need more food items to help out the families affected by the fallout of Wednesday's raid by U.S. immigration officials at poultry plants Koch Foods and PH Foods in neighboring Morton. The raids were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

In this Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo, owner Juan Garcia, right, waits on a customer at Hondumex in downtown Morton, Miss. Garcia says he's considering closing his store after Wednesday's immigration arrests at the town's Koch Foods poultry plant. The raids were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

"All the workers, the people that have been taken, they're not going to be able to spend money," Garcia said. "They're not going to be able to work in the plant."

Garcia said many workers at the two raided poultry plants — Koch Foods and PH Foods — have bought houses. He questions whether they will be able to keep up their mortgage payments. Garcia said he and his wife also own a restaurant in nearby Philadelphia, Mississippi, and he may close the Morton store.

"I was thinking about shutting down my business," Garcia said. "I don't think we're going to be able to stay here."

Martha Rogers, the chairman and CEO of the Bank of Morton, also expressed concern for the local economy. Rogers said many Spanish-speaking residents have become customers of the bank.

"Every business in town will be affected," said Rogers, whose family has owned a controlling interest in the small bank since the 1950s.

Immigration Food Plant Raids

Friends, coworkers and family talk among themselves as they watch as U.S. immigration officials raid the Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

This young woman, a Koch Foods Inc., employee, reacts to an immigration sweep of undocumented workers at the processing plant in Morton, Miss., during an early morning raid, for undocumented workers, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

This young woman cries while standing outside the Koch Foods Inc., plant as U.S. immigration officials raid the plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee said more than 150 students were absent Thursday from the 4,100-student district, including a number of students in Morton, where the enrollment is about 30% Latino.

Parents are saying they're afraid for their children to come back to class, McGee said. School officials have been making phone calls and visiting homes to try to coax the parents to let the students return.

"We're just trying to reassure them that if those kids come to school, we're going to do everything possible to make sure they come back to you," McGee said. "We want those children at school."

McGee said some longtime teachers told him that Wednesday "was by far the worst day they have ever spent as educators."

ICE didn't have much space to detain workers, even overnight, because the number of people in custody is hovering near all-time highs. The agency has been housing thousands more than its budgeted capacity of 45,274 people, largely because of an unprecedented surge of Central American families arriving at the Mexican border. Those released included 18 juveniles, with the youngest being 14 years old, said Jere Miles, special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit in New Orleans. Workers were assessed before they were released, including for whether they had any young children at home.

Immigration Food Plant Raids

Friends, coworkers and family wave to one of several buses that are filled with detainees, following a U.S. Immigration raid at several Mississippi food processing plants, including this Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The early morning raids were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

A man is taken into custody as U.S. immigration officials raided the Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration Food Plant Raids

A trailer loaded with chickens passes a federal agent outside a Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss. Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. U.S. immigration officials raided several Mississippi food processing plants on Wednesday and signaled that the early-morning strikes were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The companies involved could be charged with knowingly hiring workers who are in the county illegally and will be scrutinized for tax, document and wage fraud, said Matthew Albence, ICE's acting director.

Koch Foods, one of the country's largest poultry producers based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, said in a statement Thursday that it follows strict procedures to make sure full-time employees are eligible to work in the country.

Gabriela Rosales, a six-year resident of Morton who knows some of those detained, said she understands that "there's a process and a law" for those living in the country illegally. "But the thing that they (ICE) did is devastating," she said. "It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time."

The Rev. Mike O'Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, said he waited outside the Peco Foods plant in the city until 4 a.m. Thursday for workers returning by bus. O'Brien said he visited parishioners whose relatives had been arrested. He said he also drove home someone who had hidden from authorities inside the plant.

Immigration Food Plant Raids

Domingo Candelaria, a registered immigrant, shows federal agents his identification as he prepares to leave the Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., following a raid by U.S. immigration officials, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The raid, one of several in Mississippi, was part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

"The people are all afraid," he said. "Their doors are locked, and they won't answer their doors."

Children whose parents were detained were being cared for by other family members and friends, O'Brien said.

"They're circling the wagons that way and taking care of each other," he said.

___

Associated Press reporters Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

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