Originally published by The Washington Post
The nation’s top law enforcement officer said Tuesday that he’s “not shedding tears” over an immigration raid at a Tennessee meat processing plant where 97 workers were arrested.
Advocates for the workers said the comments Attorney General Jeff Sessions made at a law enforcement conference suggest he’s “out of touch” with what happened as a result of the April 5 raid at the Southeastern Provision Plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, since the plant remains open and nobody who benefited from the workers’ labor has been charged.
“You don’t get to get an advantage in this country by having large numbers of illegal workers working for you,” Sessions said of the plant operators. “I’m not shedding tears about them. You don’t get to benefit from being in this country and looking around the world for the cheapest worker you can find. That’s just not good policy for this country.”
The immediate impact of the raid was to leave 160 children without a parent, said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. School officials said it caused such fear in the community that 500 children stayed home from school after the raid.
“It’s clear that he is out of touch with what happened in the raid, because the employer is one of the only people who has yet to pay any price for what happened,” Teatro said. “The plant’s owner has yet to be arrested or face charges and the plant continues to operate.”
Southeastern Provision President James Brantley is not speaking, on the advice of his lawyer, according to a woman who answered the company’s phone and refused to identify herself. The woman acknowledged that the business was still operating.
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the Tennessee Highway Patrol joined the search of the meat processing plant, which activists described as the largest single worksite enforcement action in more than a decade. An IRS affidavit said the government believes the company and its owners have evaded taxes and employed immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
The 97 people arrested are all subject to removal, federal immigration officials said afterward. Of them, 11 were arrested on outstanding federal or state criminal charges, authorities said. Of the rest, some have been released on bond pending deportation proceedings, while dozens remain detained in Louisiana, Teatro said.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said there was nothing new he could disclose in regard to the immigration arrests, and questions about any future criminal charges should be directed to federal prosecutors.
An email and phone call to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Tennessee were not immediately returned.