On Wednesday, August 8, kids headed to class in Mississippi for their first week back to school. But some of those kids had no ability to go home: That same day, U.S. immigration officials arrested nearly 700 people, some of whom are parents, during a massive raid on seven food processing plants, according to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger.
Search warrants were executed in small towns near Jackson, Missouri, with a workforce largely made up of Latinx immigrants in what was the largest worksite enforcement action in more than a decade, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Matthew Albence told the Associated Press.
It’s not publicly known exactly how many children were affected by the arrests, but Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger that at least six families, with children from kindergarten to high school, had parents caught up in the raid. School bus drivers in the county were instructed to have a “visual reference to a parent or guardian” before dropping a student off, and if no parents were home, the student would have to be taken back to the school.
“We’re going to be here at the school until we make sure that every child is home safe or has a safe place to go,” McGee told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. “We’re going to make sure our kids are taken care of first.”
Alex Love, a reporter for WJTV, reported that many of the kids are being put up in a local gym by neighbors and strangers. “Many are left scared & crying after coming home from school & being locked out without their parents,” Love tweeted.
On Thursday morning, all of the kids had been returned to “their original homes, if not temporary ones with distant relatives till this gets fully sorted out,” Love reported. South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted that “neighbors are helping children as if there had been a natural disaster” in the aftermath of the raids. “But this is a policy disaster.”
Christina Peralta is one of the people taking care of her relatives: her two godchildren, whose mother was arrested. She told WJTV that the boys are worried they’ll never see their mom again.
“He said his mom is gone, that he’s upset with Trump, he said he just wants his mom back,” Peralta said of one of her godsons. “And they’ve been crying all day long since they got home from school.”
As for school, well, McGee told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger that they’re only going to focus on “supporting families” for the coming days.
“We’ll worry about the school part of it after we get all this sorted out. You can’t expect a child to stay focused on the schoolwork when he’s trying to focus on where Mom and Dad are,” McGee said. “We all know there is a bigger picture in all this. We’re not here to navigate those waters, we’re here to try to help families get together as best they can.”
ICE did not immediately return a request for comment from MTV News, but Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesperson, told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger that, as of 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, people were still being screened and processed, that he did not know how many of the people detained in the raid had children at home, and that not everyone currently being processed would be detained.
“You are going to have persons released,” Cox told the news outlet. “ICE makes custody determination on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of their circumstances.”
But that means, at least for the time being, these kids are left alone. Kids like 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, who told WJTV that she just wanted to see her parents.
“I need my dad and mommy,” Magdalena said. “My dad didn’t do anything, he’s not a criminal.”