JACKSON, Miss.—Representatives of civil-rights organizations in Mississippi are calling for the release of 28-year-old Guatemalan woman, Lladi Ambrocio-Garcia. They gathered in Jackson on May 9, 2022, to support the chicken-plant worker that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained since last year. ICE arrested her when she tried to return to the country after the 2019 ICE raids in the state. She is now at Eloy Detention Center in Arizona.
ICE first arrested Ambrocio-Garcia on Aug. 7, 2019, after executing a worksite raid at Koch Foods in Morton, Miss. She was one of hundreds of people caught up in that raid. National Day Laborer Organizing Network Campaign and Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity held a press conference on April 11, 2022, advocating for her release at the Jackson office of Mississippi 2nd District Rep. Bennie Thompson. Thompson later wrote ICE Acting Director Tae D. Johnson, asking the federal agency to consider freeing her pending the adjudication of her case.
At the Monday “Unity Press Conference” held at the Masonic Temple at 1072 John R. Lynch St. a historic civil-rights site and nows the office of the Mississippi State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the organization’s Interim Executive Director Charles Taylor called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “take action to repair the harm caused by these infamous ICE raids.”
“Let’s be clear, ICE deliberately targeted poultry factories where workers have denounced, and labor officials have confirmed, rampant abuse taking place—sexual harassment and racial discrimination,” Taylor said. “Lladi and 680 other workers were ripped from their workplaces, separated from their families, and confined themselves for months, sometimes years.”
“This inhumane treatment was only possible in an industry that has for too long exploited people’s labor without treating them like human beings,” he added. “This is the workers’-rights issue, and this is a civil-rights issue; let’s be clear, the undoing of the harms of the ICE raids is a racial-justice issue.”
In a tweet on the day of the August 2019 raid, Gov. Tate Reeves hailed it as an example of the enforcement of the law. “Glad to see that ICE is working hard to enforce our immigration laws. 680 aliens detained in Mississippi today. We must enforce our laws, for the safety of all Americans,” he wrote then.
Then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst said on Aug. 7, 2019, that the raid was about executing federal search warrants to enforce the law. “I commend these federal agents, our state and local law enforcement partners, and our federal prosecutors for their professionalism and dedication to ensure that those who violate our laws are held accountable,” he wrote in a press statement. “We are a nation of laws, and we will remain so by continuing to enforce our laws and ensuring that justice is done.”
City of Jackson Chief Administrative Officer Louis Wright represented Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba at the Monday event. He indicated that the ICE raid had a ripple effect on the immigrant community in the state. “The City of Jackson stands behind immigrant workers in Mississippi and believes that the best path forward is the one that is fundamentally humane and inclusive,” he said. “The City stands with all individuals working to make their lives—and their families’ lives—better.”
“We also appreciate the hard work the immigrant community does, often at low-paying and dangerous jobs, and (we) support safer working conditions and decent wages,” Wright added.
Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Vidhi Bamzai, while imploring DHS Secretary Mayorca to free Ambrocio-Garcia, called out the treatment of poultry workers in Mississippi.
“Lladi’s case is emblematic of the crisis facing poultry workers in Mississippi’s chicken plants—the lack of accountability for abuse and the need for action,” she said. “These jobs have some of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries, sexual harassment, and degrading conditions of any industry in the country.”
“Notably, ICE’s raids targeted the poultry plants where workers had won a major lawsuit about rampant workplace abuse,” she added. “These raids represent the deliberate retaliation and silencing of workers in central Mississippi.”
Bamzai quoted a DHS press release in October 2021 press that described the worksite-enforcement operations during the past administration as resource-intensive operations that resulted in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers as a tool that “exploitative employers” used to suppress and retaliate against workers’ assertion of labor laws.
“Lladi was deported as a result of those retaliatory ICE raids,” she said. “Can you imagine what message these raids and the ongoing impact on families have on workers’ willingness to report abuses at the workplace, cases of sexual harassment and assault, wage theft and unsafe work— the list goes on and on?”
“Workers who speak out should be protected, not threatened with arrest and deportation,” she concluded.
The staff attorney explained that Ambrocio-Garcia’s release would be the first step in protecting workers whom the ICE raids affected. “Too much of what ICE did in the past year has remained unaccounted for,” Bamzai said.
“And today, we urgently need greater leadership from our federal officials: Representative Bennie Thompson as the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, release Lladi immediately and undo the harm against immigrant workers, starting with reuniting families and granting deferred action to all impacted workers.”
The site usimmigration.org, reports that Deferred Action is an immigration status which the executive branch can grant to illegal immigrants. “It is a type of prosecutorial discretionary, limited immigration benefit that allows an individual to remain in the United States for a determined period of time, and it can be revoked at any time,” the website added. “It can be granted to individuals who are in removal proceedings, who have final orders of removal, or who have never been in removal proceedings.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi Legal Director Joshua Tom, who described the Morton raid as “discriminatory,” “bad policy” and “unjust,” also asked for Deffered Action for immigrant workers the 2019 raids affected.
“Discriminatory actions, like the ones that led to Lladi’s detention, separated families and traumatized communities; today, in May 2022, the consequences are still ongoing,” he added. “The fact is that today there’s not been accountability for ICE’s operations in 2019 for families that were devastated.”
“Little has been done to address and remedy workplace abuse at these factories and the unsafe conditions,” Tom added. “That’s why Lladi’s case is so urgent and so emblematic.”
Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity Labor Rights organizer Miranda Bolef told the Mississippi Free Press on Monday that ICE transferred Ambrocio-Garcia from Stewart Detention facility in Georgia to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona on April 20, 2022.
The organization’s executive director, Lorena Quiroz, introduced the speakers at the Monday press conference, including International Museum of Muslim Cultures President Okolo Rashid’s representative Savannah Willis, Open Door Mennonite Church Community Pastor Hugh Hollowell Jr., People’s Advocacy Institute‘s Brooke M. Floyd and University of Mississippi School of Law MacArthur Justice Center Director Cliff Johnson.
“Workers that are victims of workplace retaliation should be protected, not punished,” Quiroz added.