US immigration agents double number of workplace raids, spreading fear and tearing families apart

Two months ago, as workers in a slaughterhouse in Eastern Tennessee went about their daily work breaking down carcasses and preparing meat for shipment, a swarm of federal agents surrounded the compound in what would become the largest workplace immigration raid the United States has seen in a decade.

With a helicopter droning overhead, agents from the IRS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Tennessee Highway Patrol blocked the roads leading to the slaughterhouse before arresting 97 undocumented workers, pulling breadwinners from their families and sending shockwaves through the quiet, rural community.

Since President Donald Trump took office, ICE has put a renewed premium on workplace raids, and recently announced that it had “already” doubled the number of raids between October and May over the year before – a step towards its pronounced aim at quadrupling the rate practised by the previous administration.While the president and immigration officials praise these developments, residents in the communities impacted by these raids are largely left to pick up the pieces on their own afterward. They try to help those who have lost husbands and fathers to make ends meet without an important source of income, while rushing to maintain the social fabric in smaller communities suddenly engulfed in fear and concern as the effects of lost workers ripples through the economy.“One day you have your family. You’re just worried about how work is going to go. Then, all of a sudden, everything is gone and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Yahel Salazar, 27, told The Independent. Her husband – 33-year-old Cristino Ramirez Santana, a Mexican national who came to the US about 16 years ago – was arrested in the Bean Station slaughterhouse raid in Tennessee alongside five in-laws. Ms Salazar is also from Mexico, and is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, which Mr Trump has attempted to dismantle.

Since the raid on 5 April, Ms Salazar has had to cut back on her hours at a packing plant where she works to care for her two children, even though she needs the money now more than ever with her husband detained in a facility in Louisiana.

“I’ve been missing work. I still have to take the kids to the doctor. My little one, who has been sick, has been two times already [since my husband’s arrest],” Ms Salazar said of her one-year-old boy, who she says has a virus.

She has one other son, a six-year-old, and previously cared for two girls her husband had with his previous wife, though his ex-wife has taken over their care, and has recently indicated that she may not be able to provide for them in the long term. That raises the prospect that those girls, aged 10 and 12, may end up in state custody, even though Ms Salazar says she would gladly take care of them, even though she is uncertain how she could care for two more kids.

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Clark Mindock