Aug. 12 (UPI) — Homeland Security’s acting secretary said Sunday that the raids on seven Mississippi businesses, in which 680 people were detained, were part of an ongoing investigation into the employers.
Appearing on NBC News’ Meet the Press, Kevin McAleenan said the raid had been planned for more than a year and involved 14 federal warrants to investigate whether the employers are “exploiting undocumented workers.”
“This is a situation where you have 680 arrests just in this one operation,” he said. “That means those employers are just ignoring the law entirely in what they do. That’s why a judge gave us a warrant to go after them. And this is the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation. And we do expect to continue forward with charges.”
Host Chuck Todd asked McAleenan why none of the employers were arrested when so many employees were taken into custody, to which McAleenan replied that more than 200 people arrested had a criminal record in the United States.
“This is a criminal investigation of the employers who are exploiting an undocumented workforce and skirting our laws,” said McAleenan. “Now, when you do an operation at a worksite, you can’t ignore people that are there without proper permission to be in the United States.”
The raids began at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday at seven food-processing plants throughout Mississippi and more than 300 of the 680 people who were detained were released by the next day.
McAleenan said that 32 people were released onsite and another 270 were released in the first day of operation.
Video footage from CNN affiliates and Facebook live showed children crying as they waited to hear what happened to their parents. In Forest, Miss., community leaders took the children into a community gym to provide care.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called the raids “dehumanizing and ineffective” in a statement on Facebook.
On Sunday, Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, reacted to video showing an 11-year-old girl sobbing and begging for agents to not detain her parents.
“I understand that the girl is upset and I get that. But her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State on the Union. Morgan noted the girl was reunited with her mother shortly later.
In the video, the girls says, “Government, please put your heart — let my parents be free with everybody else, please.”
“I need my dad … mommy,” the girl cries as she speaks with a local television station. “My dad didn’t do nothing. He’s not a criminal.”
Morgan said during the interview: “How about interview the people that — because a majority of time in the cases, these individuals that are here illegally, they also steal identities of U.S. citizens, they get fraudulent documents, Social Security cards and etc., and so it is not just a victimless crime that’s going on here,” he said.