A month after dozens of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surrounded a meatpacking plant in Morristown, Tennessee, and detained 97 men and women who worked there, the tight-knit rural community is still reeling, but the initial shock has seeped into a quiet pain, as families adjust to lives without work and their loved ones.
As those shipped to immigration detention facilities across the country started appearing before judges for bond hearings this month, some families were reunited, though still facing deportation proceedings, while others braced for long separations. As of Thursday, 20 of those arrested on April 5 were released — but many more remained in detention. “Tragedy continues to unfold,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “Some families are getting really terrible news.”
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The Trump administration has promised more worksite immigration enforcement. In January, ICE’s Acting Director Thomas Homan said these operations would increase by “400 percent.” As The Intercept reported last month, ICE appeared to take workers at the Southeastern Provision plant into custody based on their ethnicity, rather than asking question to determine whether they were eligible for arrest and deportation. The day after the raid, about 550 children missed school. At least 160 children found themselves without at least one of their parents.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he is “not shedding tears” about the families torn apart by the raid. “You don’t get to get an advantage in this country by having large numbers of illegal workers working for you,” Sessions added, referring to the plant’s American owners. “You don’t get to benefit from being in this country and looking around the world for the cheapest worker you can find.”
But while the raid was prompted by an IRS investigation of the family-run business, whose owners were accused of evading taxes, filing false tax returns, and illegally employing undocumented workers, so far, they have not been charged.
The Tennessee raid was the largest immigration enforcement operation at a workplace in nearly a decade: Ten years ago today, 389 undocumented workers, including several teenagers, were detained at another meat processing plant in the small town of Postville, Iowa. The devastating impact of that raid lasts to this day and offers a glimpse of what may be ahead for Morristown.