Ashton Pitts |MS Free Press| March 22, 2021
Local law enforcement’s “entanglement” with federal immigration agencies instills “fear across Mississippi’s immigrant communities” and introduces “a host of public safety hazards,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said today while announcing “Unalienable,” a statewide campaign designed to change that dynamic.
“Undocumented immigrants and their families are increasingly driven into hiding by the threat of federal immigration authorities whose presence in our communities is made possible through arrangements with local law enforcement,” ACLU of Mississippi immigration rights advocate Delana Tavakol said in today’s statement.
At about 3%, Mississippi’s Hispanic population is smaller than that of 46 other states and the District of Columbia. But “Mississippi counties are ranked among the highest in the country in terms of their involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” the ACLU of Mississippi said in a brief it released today.
“These individuals and their families, many of whom are Hispanic, are our friends and neighbors. They make up the fabric of our communities,” the brief says. It also notes that “almost 80 percent of undocumented Mississippians have lived in the United States for over five years.”
‘A Terrifying Experience’
The brief highlights the 2019 ICE raids that struck seven chicken plants across Mississippi. Immigration officials arrested 680 Hispanic workers during the operation. It was the nation’s largest ICE workplace raid since 2008, when agents arrested 600 workers at the Howard Industries factory in Ellisville, Miss.
In Tougaloo, Miss., in November 2019, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, which U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi chairs, held a field hearing on the raids. In a statement to the committee, Mayor William Truly Jr., of Canton, one of the raid cities, criticized the way immigrations agents carried the raid out, calling it “a terrifying experience for the arrestees and a puzzling experience for me as the mayor and for this community.”
“As the Mayor of the City of Canton, I was never noticed or informed about the pre-plans and imminent raid of one of our businesses here in the City of Canton. My discovery was accidental as a consequence of a citizen informing me that ICE was on Fulton Street at PECO poultry carrying workers away by handcuffs who were transported to the National Guard Armory in Flowood, MS. … This was the first day of school, and the children of these individuals who were arrested and transported to an unknown site to be processed were still in school and returned home not knowing that their parents had been arrested,” Truly said in the Nov. 7, 2019, statement.
“The Hispanic population in the City of Canton are not gang members, rapists or murderers, but folks who work, pay taxes, purchase goods, take care of each other and their families.”
The raids, the brief says, demonstrate how ICE’s presence is damaging to local economies.
“The poultry factories in Mississippi make up a multi-billion-dollar industry, the wealth of which is largely generated by both documented and undocumented immigrant labor. With one of the country’s weakest economies, our state cannot afford this ongoing attack on some of its most productive members,” the ACLU brief says.
Counties Held More Than 19,000 for ICE
Though federal law does not require local law enofrcement to hold undocumented immigrants on ICE’s behalf, Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration database shows that more than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties have done so since Congress created ICE in 2002 as part of its post-9/11 national security reforms. Adams County, Yazoo County, Harrison County, DeSoto County and Rankin County have each held at least a thousand immigrants on behalf of ICE over the past 19 years.
In total, Mississippi facilities have held at least 19,089 in response to requests from ICE “with only one recorded refusal by the receiving agency,” the brief notes.
“These detention requests, while commonplace, invite a host of harms to public safety that warrant heightened scrutiny,” the brief says. Those issues include “obstruction of local policing,” the brief says. The ACLU quotes Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee, who told the story of a pregnant woman whom he was holding on a shoplifting charge when she began experiencing complications with her pregnancy.
“I’m not going to continue to hold her here for a small shoplifting charge … and put her baby at risk. We’re not a hospital. So we let her go. And the next thing you know, I’ve got someone from ICE telling me how bad I did things,” the ACLU quotes the sheriff saying.
“It’s a shame that you can get in trouble by not asking that question, by helping someone that’s just here to make a living that came out of a drastic situation. They (undocumented immigrants) are just as good as citizens in Scott County as they would be in their own home county,” Lee added.
The brief also cites a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study’s findings that “collaboration between ICE and local jurisdictions produces a perception among Hispanic immigrants that law enforcement is not a source of protection,” resulting in “mass underreporting of crime and emergencies due to the risk of ICE involvement.”
Entanglement between ICE and local law enforcement can also raise risks of legal liabilities, the ACLU says, pointing to an Immigrant Legal Resource Center Report that says “ICE regularly violates the constitution and federal laws by issuing unlawful detainers.”
“However, the responsibility to account for those violations often falls on local law enforcement. Federal courts have consistently held that local agencies and officials can be sued for effectuating ICE detainers. Police and sheriffs across the country have paid millions in damages, settlements, and attorney’s fees for detainer arrests,” the ACLU brief says. “The financial costs of ICE detainers on local policing became most apparent in October of last year, when Los Angeles County paid a $14 million settlement after a class action against the unlawful effectuation of ICE detainers by its sheriff’s department.”
“The likelihood of litigation in Mississippi is only escalated by a lack of education across law enforcement offices. Some local police, for example, have even admitted to not knowing that individuals held on a detainer must be released after 48 hours if not taken into ICE custody.”
ICE involvement with local police results in more people stuck in pretrial detention, too, the brief notes, which raised risks for inmates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACLU Offers Recommendations
In the “Recommendations” section of its brief, the ACLU offers a list of policy solutions that states and local bodies can make to effect change, including expanding access to government-issued ID for undocumented immigrants; making drivers’ education available to residents regardless of immigration status; issuing “an immigration-neutral form of government identification that is uniform and accessible to all Mississippi residents”; and increasing transparency by publishing data related to ICE collaborations.
For law enforcement, the ACLU also recommends “detailed policies and procedures to ensure unbiased policing” and that law enforcement engages “in community outreach, education, and open lines of communication with immigrant communities.” Departments should “hire bilingual, bicultural and/or culturally sensitive” officers and “conduct regular trainings for officers and investigators on cultural consciousness and best practices to protect and service immigrant communities.”
The brief also lists specific recommendations for the Biden administration and federal agencies. The administration should “end the ICE detainer regime and restrict ICE to requests for notice of an individual’s release” and “end any agreements that allow local law enforcement to directly participate in immigration enforcement.”
In 2017, then-President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13768 with the goal of increasing local involvement with federal immigration agencies. President Joe Biden revoked it after taking office, “but the harmful practices that it facilitated are still ongoing,” the ACLU brief says.
“It is urgent the local, state, and federal bodies act in their respective capacities to, in the words of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, ‘bring an immediate end to the inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants.’ Our health, safety, economy, and constitution depend on it,” the brief concludes.