In one heartbreaking video captured by CNN affiliate WJTV, an 11-year-old girl sobs and begs for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to let her parents go.
“Government, please put your heart — let my parents be free with everybody else, please,” she pleads.
Christina Peralta, who said her daughter goes to school with the girl in the video, told CNN that after the girl finished school on Wednesday, some of her father’s friends brought her to a community gym that had been housing children whose parents were detained.
“I need my dad … mommy,” the girl cries as she speaks with the station outside the gym. “My dad didn’t do nothing. He’s not a criminal.”
Peralta said that she knows the girl’s father through her work as a Spanish translator for the Latino community in Forest, Mississippi.
“He worked down here in Morton, Mississippi, at the chicken plant,” Peralta said. “He’s a good person. He’s been here a long time. He has no record at all.”
A total of 680 people were arrested in Wednesday’s raids, but about 300 migrants have been released since the arrests, and at least 377 more are still in ICE custody, according to Jere Miles, special agent in charge for the Department of Homeland Security.
Peralta said she doesn’t know whether the girl has been reunited with either of her parents yet.
Gabriela Rosales, a six-year resident of Morton who knows some of those detained, said she understands that “there’s a process and a law” for those living in the country illegally. “But the thing that they (ICE) did is devastating,” she said. “It was very devastating to see all those kids crying, having seen their parents for the last time.”
Scott County Superintendent Tony McGee said more than 150 students were absent Thursday from the 4,000-student district, including a number of students in Morton, where the enrollment is about 30% Latino.
School officials are trying to coax parents into letting their children return through phone calls and home visits. McGee said some longtime teachers told him that Wednesday “was by far the worst day they have ever spent as educators.”
The Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, said he waited outside the Peco Foods plant in the city until 4 a.m. Thursday for workers returning by bus. O’Brien said he visited a number of parishioners whose relatives had been arrested. He said he also drove home a person who had hidden from authorities inside the plant.
“The people are all afraid,” he said. “Their doors are locked, and they won’t answer their doors.”
Children whose parents were detained were being cared for by other family members and friends, O’Brien said.
“They’re circling the wagons that way and taking care of each other,” he said.
The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services is investigating whether any immigrant children are in need of foster care while their parents are in detention, spokeswoman Lea Ann Brandon said.
Martha Rogers, the chairman and CEO of the Bank of Morton, said businesses across town will be affected. Rogers said many Spanish-speaking residents have become customers.
“We’ve all been greatly upset,” Rogers said. “We know these people.”