Since the agency’s creation post-9/11, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have always made it clear that their priority is to enforce cruelty. During last Wednesday’s ICE raids on seven poultry plants in Mississippi, that mission was on full display—in the form of weeping children separated from their parents and distraught family members frantically trying to locate their loved ones, who had been arrested and then herded onto buses by ICE agents strapped with guns, helicopters whirring overhead. As one ICE official put it bluntly, and honestly, “We are a law enforcement agency, not a social services agency.”
The impact of raids like the one that took place Wednesday extend far beyond one single, chaotic day. Ginny Kramer, a public defender in Mississippi, was one of dozens of attorneys who took part in a volunteer effort to provide legal support to families who had loved ones arrested by ICE. Kramer spoke to Jezebel about the chaos and confusion in the aftermath of the raids and what families need moving forward. As Kramer put it to Jezebel, “At the end of the day, [ICE] caused a complete upheaval of an entire community in one state, and everyone else is left to pick up the pieces.” This is the story, in her own words, as told to Jezebel.
I’m a public defender in the county where I live in Mississippi, and I’m in a public defender group listserv. And after the raids, someone in the group sent out a sign-up sheet if we were interested in getting in contact with the people who were trying to organize the effort.
I contacted my friend J.C. who can speak Spanish, because I cannot, and I asked if he wanted to hang out with me for the weekend and work on this. So we went to Canton, which is where one of the plants is located. The next morning, we had a brief training: I’m not an immigration attorney, nor were most of the people in the room.
At the church, there were three dozen people waiting for us, and we set up our table and we just started. Word had gotten out that we were coming. We started around 2 o’clock and we ended around 9 p.m. that night. We probably met with about 40 people. We came back Sunday morning at 9 o’clock and started the process again.
It was an incredibly chaotic situation in the aftermath of Wednesday’s raids. Mississippi is a rural state, and six hundred and eighty people were taken from these rural places. That might not sound a lot when you consider it in the context of Los Angeles or New York, but here—I mean that’s entire communities, that’s portions of entire towns.
ICE had months to prepare. We’re trying to quarterback on the back end. We didn’t have a list of everyone that was detained. So we were trying to get the family members of people who were detained to come speak to us at the different churches we were set up at, so that we could get information about the detainees. Simple things, like what’s their name, what country are they from, are they speakers of indigenous languages, if they have any health issues that we need to flag to make sure that everything goes smoothly in custody. Whether they had contacted their loved ones so that we could know which facility they were being held in. It was all just trying to piece together information that none of us had.
Many of the people were there because either their husband had been detained, or their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors who didn’t have family and essentially hadn’t come home from work, so they assumed the worst. Some of these people weren’t of legal status either so they were essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to figure out what to do.
A lot of them were wondering if we knew where their family members were, and the answer is no. We have ideas of which detention facilities they’re located at, but we don’t know. Many were worried that if they were to be deported, what to do about their children—can they sign over guardianship to someone else in their community? Because most of these children were born in the U.S. It was devastating. One middle-aged father who was there, he just looked so tired. His wife, his brother, and his neighbor were all taken or were all detained. His wife has health issues, and he’s taking care of their two young children by himself, and he himself works at a plant.
People were just wondering how they were going to feed their kids while they couldn’t work. Many of these people have outstanding wages that they’re owed. Some people have hundreds of dollars in wages, and their families are wondering how are they going to get that paycheck. A really important component of immigration detention is the bond. If these people who are detained are eligible for bond, that bond has to be a cash bond. It’s not a 10 percent type deal, it’s a 100 percent cash bond. And most of these families just don’t have that lying around. So when you’re a mother and you have to decide whether you can get your husband out for three or four months so that you can get your affairs in order, and what you’re looking at is a $2,000, $3,000 bond, that’s tough.
Many of them were worried about the health needs of the people that were detained. Some of the detainees were given about two minutes each to make a phone call over the past couple of days to someone, and usually that was a really quick phone call just to say, “I love you. Tell the kids I’m okay. And here’s the information I have so far.” And on a few of those phone calls, we learned that the detainees were speaking to ICE agents about their health issues or attempting to at least, but that they weren’t receiving any help or actual responses to those problems.
This was another question that I was asked a lot, which hurt—“I need to go to work, because I need money, but I’m scared to go to work, because what if I get detained and my children have no one.” I didn’t know what to say. There’s not really a good answer to that question.
I’m glad that ICE has made some changes in the wake of public disgust and outrage that came after detaining children and detaining children’s parents. They tried to put a Band-Aid on that issue in these raids, and I’m glad about that. But at the end of the day, they caused a complete upheaval of an entire community in one state, and everyone else is left to pick up the pieces.
And whenever ICE detains six hundred and eighty people in a place that probably doesn’t even have that many practicing attorneys, I’m concerned about the due process that should be afforded to those people, and whether they’re going to get that or not.
Sometimes, especially lawyers, with egos and such, we get embarrassed to say, I don’t know or I’m not sure. But you just have to put that aside right now. I came here to Mississippi because there are people here who need good, competent, zealous representation. And every single one of these people needs an advocate.