Official: Some kids still without parent after Mississippi ICE raids

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Some children whose parents were detained in immigration raids in Mississippi last week still do not have at least one parent with them, a Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services spokeswoman said Thursday.

The department, acting on tips, verified this through home visits with the children, spokeswoman Lea Anne Brandon said.

Citing privacy concerns, Brandon said she could not reveal the number of children still without at least one parent present.

There are “children in the area whose parents were detained that still do not have a parent with them” and who are being temporarily looked after by relatives, neighbors or family friends, Brandon said.

Federal officials had said children were with at least one parent

At least 680 undocumented immigrants were detained August 7 in raids at seven food processing plants across central Mississippi.

After being scheduled for proceedings before federal immigration courts, some workers — many of whom are parents — were allowed to return to their homes with GPS ankle monitors. More than 300 of the detainees had been released by August 8, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

US officials have stressed that they went out of their way to release certain parents to ensure that children had at least one parent at home.

By the night of August 7, it was believed “that all children were with at least one of their parents,” the office of Mike Hurst, US attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said August 8.

If investigators “encountered two alien parents with minor children at home, HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) released one of the parents on humanitarian grounds and returned that individual to the place from which they were arrested,” Hurst’s office said last week.

“HSI similarly released any single alien parent with minor children at home on humanitarian grounds,” the office said.

Some detainees might have been afraid to say they had kids, spokeswoman says

But some detainees, because of their immigration status, might have been afraid to tell federal authorities that they had children, Brandon said. Because the feds didn’t know they had children at home, these parents might not have been released.

Instead, these parents might have asked a friend or a relative to take care of their children, Brandon said.

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said he was unable to address assertions that children were without at least one parent unless the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services released specific names.

He said the detentions of these parents should be seen in a light similar to arrests that have nothing to do with immigration.

“There are countless children in Mississippi who have a parent currently incarcerated due to their parent being arrested. The reality is, adults with children are arrested by law enforcement agencies in Mississippi every day — and every arrest by any law enforcement agency, by definition, ‘separates’ a person from their family,” Cox said.

“The use of sensationalist language applied to ICE arrests — and only ICE arrests — only fuels misinformation and is an unfair double standard,” Cox said.

Hurst’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Brandon’s assertion.

State is recruiting foster homes just in case, official says

The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services will have no official role in the raids’ aftermath unless a child is turned over to foster care, Brandon said. As of now, the department does not have custody of any of the children affected by the raids, she said.

She said her department has recruited additional foster homes, just in case.

“It’s easy for relatives and neighbors to care for these children in the short term, but when the absence turns into months or even years, depending on what happens, it’s much more difficult,” Brandon said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint, for our community.

“The goal is for the kids to be with their parents. If they aren’t, they should be where the parents want them. But we know there are a lot of unknowns for these communities right now.”

The August 7 raids had several effects on affected families, including the workers’ children, some of whom didn’t immediately have adults to go home to after school that day. Volunteers took some of them to a gym in the city of Forest that day, distributing donated food and drinks to them until the kids were reunited with family members that night.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up worksite enforcement since President Donald Trump took office, conducting a number of large-scale raids at food-processing plants and gardening centers.

CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.