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Mississippi chicken plant raided by ICE reportedly fires workers

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/14/2019 Alissa Zhu and Jimmie E. Gates
a sign on the side of a road: PH Food in Morton, a chicken processing plant in Morton was raided by U.S. Immigration & Customs Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. According to the plant manager, about 70-80 people were taken away. © Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger PH Food in Morton, a chicken processing plant in Morton was raided by U.S. Immigration & Customs Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. According to the plant manager, about 70-80 people were taken away.

JACKSON, Miss. - There are unconfirmed reports that as many as 100 employees have been fired at a chicken-processing plant in Morton after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided PH Food and six other plants in Mississippi last week.

PH Food won't comment on the report of the layoffs.

Dianne Bell, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, said Wednesday that the agency was trying to confirm the layoffs. She said the state doesn't require notification, but she said that in most cases, it is notified of mass layoffs.

Morton Mayor Gerald Keeton Jr. said he had no firsthand knowledge of layoffs at the plant, but said he has heard the reports.

Keeton said through media reports and others that some workers were fired if they couldn't prove they were legally in the country. 

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"It has a trickle-down effect on us," Keeton said. "If they don't have jobs, you don't see them in the market, you don't see them in the dollar store."

Sofia Hernandez, who owns Maria's Mercado in Morton, said her husband was employed at PH Food. He was one of only 26 people who kept their jobs, she said.

The rest were fired "because their Social Security is bad," Hernandez said.

The Rev. Roberto Mena, a priest at St. Michael's Catholic Church, said workers who lost their jobs had a meeting in Morton Park on Tuesday. There, children holding signs that said, "Stop deportation" and "¡Necesitamos trabajo!" — We need work!

On Aug. 7, hundreds of immigration officials descended upon seven food-processing plants in Mississippi and arrested about 680 people suspected of living and working in the country without permission.

It was the largest immigration operation of its kind in more than a decade, and the largest single-state raid ever, officials said.

About 300 people were given future court dates and released back to their communities within a day. The remaining approximately 380 people were shipped to detention facilities in southwestern Mississippi and Louisiana, according to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst.

A man who identified himself as Jun Lian, receiving and shipping manager for PH Food, told the Clarion Ledger the day after the raids that about 70 to 80 of the company's employees had been detained.

Job fair after ICE raids: Here's who showed up for Koch Foods plant jobs

That day, the plant was closed for business. Lian expressed concerns that finding workers to fill jobs at the chicken-processing plant in Morton was going to be a challenge. 

Workers of Koch Foods in Morton said parts of that plant were closed the day after the raids due to an employee shortage.

On Monday, Koch Foods held a hiring fair at the WIN Job Center in Forest.

On Wednesday, Bell said 216 people had applied for jobs.

The seven plants targeted by immigration officials were owned by four companies spread across six towns. They were Peco Foods Inc., with plants in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol; Koch Foods Inc., with a plant in Morton; PH Food Inc. in Morton; MP Food Inc. in Pelahatchie and Pearl River Foods Inc. in Carthage. MP Food and PH Food are associated with A&B Inc.

Follow Alissa Zhu and Jimmie E. Gates on Twitter: @AlissaZhu and @jgatesnews

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi chicken plant raided by ICE reportedly fires workers

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