Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Caring for children after immigration raids

Compassion | What happened to the children of immigrants arrested in Mississippi?
by Charissa Koh
Posted 8/14/19, 04:21 pm

A large-scale immigration raid on seven food processing plants in Mississippi last week sparked concerns about the welfare of the children of the 680 adults arrested. The raid took place on Wednesday, the first day of school, and reports circulated that children were coming home to find their parents gone. I called sources on the ground in Mississippi to find out what happened and who is taking care of the affected children.

The day after the raids, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., reported that Tony McGee, superintendent of a local school district, said he knew of six families that had a parent caught up in the raids. McGee said the district instructed bus drivers to take children back to school if they did not see a parent or guardian at home.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox told me the agency expedited the processing of adults who said they had children. He also said the agency coordinated through school liaison officers in Mississippi to identify the parents and children affected.

ICE did not inform the state Department of Child Protection Services of the raids in advance, but afterward, CPS prepared to receive more children, contacting foster homes to see how many beds were available. CPS Communications Director Lea Anne Brandon told me her office was “providing translators and counselor support to local churches in the affected area, which have set up emergency response centers.” Brandon added that CPS is also preparing for the long-term effects that could follow the deportation of the parents.

A statement released Thursday from the U.S. Department of Justice said ICE agents provided cellphones for parents to arrange child care and released 30 detainees right away so they could care for their children. Authorities said they had released 300 adults, 270 after processing and 30 on humanitarian grounds.

All of the children were back with their parents by 10 p.m. Wednesday, Reggie Williams, director of missions for the Scott County Baptist Association, told me. Williams said after the raids, many of the parents are wearing ankle monitors and are no longer able to work, so his organization is collecting donations to help the affected families.

Associated Press/Photo by Lacy Atkins /The Tennessean Associated Press/Photo by Lacy Atkins /The Tennessean Cyntoia Brown (center) at her clemency hearing in May 2018

A second chance

Last week, 31-year-old Cyntoia Brown walked out of the Tennessee Prison for Women after spending nearly half her life behind bars. As a 16-year-old runaway and sex-trafficking victim, Brown killed a 43-year-old man in Nashville who took her home for sex. She was tried as an adult and convicted of murder and aggravated robbery. The judge gave Brown a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 51 years. But in prison, she became a Christian and turned her life around.

Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, had a week and a half left in his term when he granted Brown clemency in January. He said her sentence was “too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”

In prison, Brown earned her GED diploma and an associate’s degree and started working on her bachelor’s degree. She participated in a Tennessee Department of Corrections program that paired her with Christian mentors from a local church, and she counseled at-risk young people for the state’s juvenile justice system.

Meanwhile, Brown’s case drew national attention. As juvenile justice reform became a hot topic, more and more people insisted Haslam revisit her case. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna tweeted about Brown and made the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown popular. Not everyone agreed though: In 2017, the lead detective who investigated the murder wrote a detailed letter arguing that Brown should remain in prison.

Her first public defender, Kathy Sinback, said when she told Brown the news of her clemency, “She just lit up with a joy I’ve never seen before.” Brown released a statement in response: “We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without him. Let today be a testament to his saving grace.”

Under the current agreement, Brown will be on parole for the next 10 years, provided she meets certain conditions like employment and regular counseling. Before her release, Brown married Christian rapper J. Long, who posted a photo on Instagram of them together. Her publicist, Wes Yoder, said she asked him not to schedule any interviews yet, but on Monday he wrote in an email, “I can confirm that she attended church and received communion as a free woman for the first time yesterday here in Nashville.” —C.K.

Independence days

Law enforcement agencies across the country identified and recovered 103 underage victims of trafficking during the monthlong Operation Independence Day in July. Led by the FBI, the operation also resulted in the arrest of 67 suspected traffickers and led to 60 new investigations.

Agents freed and identified 14 juveniles in Las Vegas and 13 in Dallas, the cities with the most teen victims recovered.

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said last week that prosecutors had indicted nine defendants while 10 others faced charges in Oklahoma following the operation. Charges included possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, and attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies recovered four victims in Oklahoma: three teens and one who was 12 or younger.

“I have zero tolerance for child predators and will use every tool available to identify and prosecute them,” Shores said. “Child victims will be given a voice.”

More than 400 law enforcement agencies worked with the FBI’s child exploitation and human trafficking task forces in each of the bureau’s 56 field offices. The effort also involved the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Fewer unapproved crossings

The number of people apprehended at the U.S. southern border dropped by about 24 percent last month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded nearly 72,000 apprehensions in July, down from more than 94,000 in June. Authorities arrested about 1,800 fewer unaccompanied minors, 14,789 fewer family units, and 22,909 fewer single adults. The number of arrests has decreased the last two months after topping 130,000 apprehensions in May, the highest since 2014. —R.L.A.

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Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 08/16/2019 12:14 am

    Numerical Error in "Fewer Unapproved Crossings"

    Dear World Editor,

    The numbers quoted don't add up. 94,000 apprehensions in June subtract 72,000 apprehensions in July equals 22,000 fewer apprehensions, or about 24%, as reported. However, 1,800 fewer unaccompanied minors, 14,789 fewer family units, and 22,909 fewer single adults yields a total of 39,489 fewer apprehensions in mutually exclusive categories. This is more than double (55% of) what the first set of numbers indicates. There is a mistake somewhere in the numbers as reported.