ATLANTA — Shock and awe shook Mississippi through a single, sudden sweep on Wednesday. More than 600 federal ICE agents armed with federal warrants raided seven poultry processing plants and took away nearly 700 workers suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
“These people have been over here for years and years and years. And now y’all want to snatch them up,” one employee said. “And then, they made all this money up for the company, and now y’all want to come snatch them up?”
Now, those raids in Mississippi are drawing attention in Georgia, known as the poultry capital of the world. Will ICE agents also raid Georgia's poultry producers, who employs thousands of immigrants?
“The agriculture industry in Georgia is heavily dependent on undocumented immigrants in this state,” said Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).
“If we were to remove all the undocumented immigrants from our agriculture industry, particularly the poultry industry, the industry would collapse,” he said.
Georgia poultry production is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, with the state being one of the world’s biggest poultry producers and suppliers.
Farmers and processors generally rely on the government’s E-Verify system to make sure employees are eligible to work in the U.S. The feds say too many immigrants are faking identification to get around the verification and to get a job in the U.S.
“It’s no wonder that people from around the world want to come here to our country,” the U.S. Attorney in Mississippi Michael Hurst said. “But while we do welcome folks from other countries, they have to follow our laws.”
But Gonzalez said that’s why comprehensive immigration reform is needed.
“I think the agriculture leaders need to step up and really push back on the President,” he said, "in some of these types of operations that are really destructive to families, really destructive to our economy, here.”
Are poultry industry executives and political leaders in Georgia concerned? So far, no one’s responded to 11Alive’s requests for comment about whether they think ICE raids here could impair Georgia’s valuable poultry industry.
Immigration lawyers said Thursday that about five busloads of people detained in Mississippi on Wednesday were released. It’s unclear, though, whether that’s because it was determined they’re living in the U.S. legally.
Federal officials said Wednesday they would release detained people who met certain conditions. This included pregnant women and people who hadn’t faced immigration proceedings before.