Last Thursday, nearly a hundred immigrants were arrested by ICE at a meatpacking plant near Knoxville, Tennessee. Many of those at the plant had been working there for years without incident. Many have children who are United States citizens. ICE closed off roads around the plant and swept in to make arrests of the workers. At last report, 54 were still in custody.
The news of the arrests set off panic in nearby Latino communities, with immigrants rushing to churches for help and protection from a feared ICE roundup. According to a local community group, 600 Latino children did not go to school the day after the raid because of fear of being targeted by ICE.
The need for counselors for traumatized children led to a call for volunteers by one immigrant organization. 120 teachers and guidance counsellors volunteered to help. Catholic, Episcopalian, and Unitarian congregations have banded together to assist the families targeted by the Trump attack on immigrant workers.
Catholic Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville said that the arrests “placed an unnecessary stress on vulnerable families,” which made “families suffer and people live in the shadows.”
We do not know if this raid is a harbinger of wider ICE workplace raids. Such raids had been largely unheard of for nearly a decade. Advocates fear that as restraints on ICE are removed and the protections of the rights of immigrants are ignored by the Trump administration, these raids may become commonplace.
In the past ICE had prioritized the arrest of those with criminal records and absconders, such arrests don’t yield the dramatic coverage that a mass arrest at a factory or meat packing plant do. Workplace arrests undermine efforts at unionization and workplace safety by making immigrant afraid of any contact with authorities.