House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson said Thursday that his committee is battling to try to make companies pay illegal immigrants snared in this summer’s raid on poultry processing plants in Mississippi.
Mr. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said he feared companies whose facilities were raided are pocketing the paychecks they had intended to pay to hundreds of illegal immigrants employed at seven different sites.
“They should have received a paycheck,” he said. “We’ve been working with various agencies to make sure that happens.”
Nearly 700 illegal immigrants were arrested in the Aug. 7 operation, which saw U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement carry out a half-dozen search warrants on businesses where the agency had developed information during an 18-month investigation.
The operation enraged Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Mr. Thompson, who said ICE didn’t do enough to accommodate children of those snared in the raids.
“Will families be forced to send children back to a country they have never seen or speak the language of, or grow up here without any parents? What happens when these children are U.S. citizens?” he said Thursday, as he kicked off a hearing at Tougaloo College, near some of the raid sites.
Mr. Thompson complained that the businesses raided have yet to face criminal charges for employing the illegal immigrants.
William Truly, mayor of Canton, Mississippi, agreed, saying his office never got a notification, and so “nothing was in place for the children of the arrestees.”
And he questioned the need to arrest the unauthorized workers.
“They’re not gang members, they’re not rapists, they’re not murderers,” he said.
But Jere Miles, ICE’s special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in the New Orleans office, said they discovered 400 people among those they arrested who were working on fraudulent IDs.
“They stole the IDs of 400 U.S. citizens,” he said. “Where’s their voice.”
He demanded Democrats say whether they thought that was a serious crime deserving of attention — at which point Mr. Thompson cut him off.
“Be quiet,” the chairman instructed him.
Under questioning, Mr. Miles admitted that he didn’t know the operations happened on the first day of school in many of the jurisdictions.
He said ICE may have made a mistake by failing to notify at least one of the local school districts so it could be aware that parents might be in custody and unable to pick up their children.
“Then I would say it was an oversight,” he said.
No Republican lawmakers attended the field hearing, giving Democrats free rein to criticize ICE’s decision-making.
One frequent complaint was that ICE has not charged any of the companies involved.
“You picked on the undocumented persons, to the exclusion of the employers,” said Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat.
Mr. Miles told them to be patient. He said the operation, which at heart was to serve search warrants, obtained 850,000 documents from the businesses raided, and he said that’s part of the criminal investigation.
“Seven months from now, a year from now, when we finalize the investigation, there’ll be nobody thanking us for it,” he said.
He also bristled at the broader jabs from Democrats saying the illegal immigrants shouldn’t have been targeted.
“it’s one thing to sit here and say this is cruel, this is this, this is the other. But it is the law. And Congress writes the law, we don’t,” Mr. Miles said. “If you want us as a unit, as a group, to go ‘We’ll not enforce the law,’ that’s really not what we’re designed for.”