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By Holbrook Mohr
The Associated Press

LAUREL, Miss. - Federal immigration agents said they uncovered 350 suspected undocumented workers in a raid on a Mississippi electrical equipment plant Monday, hours after sealing all entrances amid reports their sweep had idled normal operations.
Barbara Gonzalez, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, confirmed the raid and said it targeted Howard Industries Inc. of Laurel.
The company produces dozens of products ranging from electrical transformers to medical supplies, according to the company's Web site.
"This is a targeted enforcement operation that is part of an ongoing ICE investigation that has revealed that illegal aliens are employed at Howard Industries," Gonzalez said, adding late Monday that agents were still interviewing plant workers.
She declined to say how many federal agents were involved, but said they acted on a tip provided by a union worker.
Another agency spokesman, Brandon Montgomery, told The Associated Press outside the plant Monday afternoon that agents were talking with everyone who worked at the sprawling plant to determine their residency status.
All plant entrances were blocked, with tents set up at some ICE checkpoints to keep agents out of a steady rain. Motorists traveling on roads behind the plant were stopped by officers in unmarked vehicles and told to leave.
Suspected illegal workers were loaded later Monday into white vans with shaded windows and driven away as ICE agents guarded the plant entrances. Gonzalez wouldn't say where they were headed other than to say they were being taken to a holding facility.
People leaving the plant told The Hattiesburg American newspaper that so many workers were stopped that operations were shut down. It wasn't clear how many workers the plant employed.
A recording at Howard Industries plant on Monday said the telephone switchboard was closed.
Billy Howard, the company's chief executive officer, did not immediately respond to a message left by The AP. A man who answered a phone call at the company's security station said reporters would have to call back Tuesday.
Howard Industries was founded in the 1960s. In 2002, state lawmakers approved a $31.5 million, taxpayer-backed incentive plan aimed at helping to expand its operations.
The raid is one of several nationwide in recent years.
On May 12, federal immigration officials swept into Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Iowa. Nearly 400 workers were detained and dozens of fraudulent permanent resident alien cards were seized from the plant's human resources department, court records showed.

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Miss. immigration raid largest in U.S. history

By Holbrook Mohr
The Associated Press

LAUREL, Miss. - A day after the largest single-workplace immigration raid in U.S. history, Elizabeth Alegria was too scared to send her son to school and worried about when she'd see her husband again.
Nearly 600 immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally were detained, creating panic among dozens of families in this small southern Mississippi town.
Alegria, 26, a Mexican immigrant, was working at the Howard Industries transformer plant Monday when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stormed in. When they found out she has two sons, ages 4 and 9, she was fitted with a bracelet and told to appear in federal court next month. But her husband, Andres, wasn't so lucky.
"I'm very traumatized because I don't know if they are going to let my husband go and when I will see him," Alegria said through a translator Tuesday as she returned to the Howard Industries parking lot to retrieve her sport utility vehicle.
The superintendent of the county school district said about half of approximately 160 Hispanic students were absent Tuesday.
Roberto Velez, pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Peniel, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the 200 parishioners were caught up in the raid, said parents were afraid immigration officials would take them.
"They didn't send their kids to school today," he said. "How scared is that?"
One worker caught in Monday's sweep at the plant said fellow workers applauded as immigrants were taken into custody. Federal officials said a tip from a union member prompted them to start investigating several years ago.
Fabiola Pena, 21, cradled her 2-year-old daughter as she described a chaotic scene at the plant as the raid began, followed by clapping.
"I was crying the whole time. I didn't know what to do," Pena said. "We didn't know what was happening because everyone started running. Some people thought it was a bomb but then we figured out it was immigration."
About 100 of the 595 detained workers were released for humanitarian reasons, many of them mothers who were fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets and allowed to go home to their children, officials said.
About 475 other workers were transferred to an ICE facility in Jena, La. Nine who were under 18 were transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
John Foxworth, an attorney representing some of the immigrants, said eight appeared in federal court in Hattiesburg on Tuesday because they face criminal charges for allegedly using false Social Security and residency identification.
He said the raid was traumatic for families.
"There was no communication, an immediate loss of any kind of news and a lack of understanding of what's happening to their loved ones," he said. "A complete and utter feeling of helplessness."
Those detained were from Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Peru, said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman.
"We have kids without dads and pregnant mothers who got their husbands taken away," said Velez's son, Robert, youth pastor at the church. "It was like a horror story. They got handled like they were criminals."
Howard Industries is in Mississippi's Pine Belt region, known for commercial timber growth and chicken processing plants. The tech company produces dozens of products ranging from electrical transformers to medical supplies, according to its Web site.
Gonzalez said agents had executed search warrants at both the plant and the company headquarters in nearby Ellisville. She said no company executives had been detained, but this was an "ongoing investigation and yesterday's action was just the first part."
A woman at the Ellisville headquarters told The Associated Press on Tuesday that no one was available to answer questions.
In a statement to the Laurel Leader-Call newspaper, Howard Industries said the company "runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for its jobs."
Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed a law requiring Mississippi employers to use a U.S. Homeland Security system to check new workers' immigration status.
The law took effect July 1 for businesses with state contracts and takes effect Jan. 1 for other businesses. Mississippi lawmakers once used laptops made by Howard Industries, but it's not clear whether the company has current state contracts.
Under the law, a company found guilty of employing illegal immigrants could lose public contracts for three years and the right to do business in Mississippi for a year.
The law also makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to accept a job in Mississippi. A message was left with the district attorney's office after hours seeking comment on whether he would use the law to bring state charges against Howard Industries or the workers.
The Mississippi raid is one of several nationwide in recent years.
On May 12, federal immigration officials swept into Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Iowa. Nearly 400 workers were detained and dozens of fraudulent permanent resident alien cards were seized from the plant's human resources department, according to court records. In December 2006, 1,297 were arrested at Swift meatpacking plants in Nebraska and five other states.

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Miss. immigration raid largest in U.S. history

By Holbrook Mohr
The Associated Press

LAUREL, Miss. - A day after the largest single-workplace immigration raid in U.S. history, Elizabeth Alegria was too scared to send her son to school and worried about when she'd see her husband again.
Nearly 600 immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally were detained, creating panic among dozens of families in this small southern Mississippi town....FUCK THEM
Alegria, 26, a Mexican immigrant, was working at the Howard Industries transformer plant Monday when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stormed in. When they found out she has two sons, ages 4 and 9, she was fitted with a bracelet and told to appear in federal court next month. But her husband, Andres, wasn't so lucky.
"I'm very traumatized because I don't know if they are going to let my husband go and when I will see him," Alegria said through a translator Tuesday as she returned to the Howard Industries parking lot to retrieve her sport utility vehicle.
The superintendent of the county school district said about half of approximately 160 Hispanic students were absent Tuesday.
Roberto Velez, pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Peniel, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the 200 parishioners were caught up in the raid, said parents were afraid immigration officials would take them.
"They didn't send their kids to school today," he said. "How scared is that?"
One worker caught in Monday's sweep at the plant said fellow workers applauded as immigrants were taken into custody. Federal officials said a tip from a union member prompted them to start investigating several years ago.
Fabiola Pena, 21, cradled her 2-year-old daughter as she described a chaotic scene at the plant as the raid began, followed by clapping.
"I was crying the whole time. I didn't know what to do," Pena said. "We didn't know what was happening because everyone started running. Some people thought it was a bomb but then we figured out it was immigration."
About 100 of the 595 detained workers were released for humanitarian reasons, many of them mothers who were fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets and allowed to go home to their children, officials said.
About 475 other workers were transferred to an ICE facility in Jena, La. Nine who were under 18 were transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
John Foxworth, an attorney representing some of the immigrants, said eight appeared in federal court in Hattiesburg on Tuesday because they face criminal charges for allegedly using false Social Security and residency identification.
He said the raid was traumatic for families.
"There was no communication, an immediate loss of any kind of news and a lack of understanding of what's happening to their loved ones," he said. "A complete and utter feeling of helplessness."
Those detained were from Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Peru, said Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman.
"We have kids without dads and pregnant mothers who got their husbands taken away," said Velez's son, Robert, youth pastor at the church. "It was like a horror story. They got handled like they were criminals."
Howard Industries is in Mississippi's Pine Belt region, known for commercial timber growth and chicken processing plants. The tech company produces dozens of products ranging from electrical transformers to medical supplies, according to its Web site.
Gonzalez said agents had executed search warrants at both the plant and the company headquarters in nearby Ellisville. She said no company executives had been detained, but this was an "ongoing investigation and yesterday's action was just the first part."
A woman at the Ellisville headquarters told The Associated Press on Tuesday that no one was available to answer questions.
In a statement to the Laurel Leader-Call newspaper, Howard Industries said the company "runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for its jobs."
Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed a law requiring Mississippi employers to use a U.S. Homeland Security system to check new workers' immigration status.
The law took effect July 1 for businesses with state contracts and takes effect Jan. 1 for other businesses. Mississippi lawmakers once used laptops made by Howard Industries, but it's not clear whether the company has current state contracts.
Under the law, a company found guilty of employing illegal immigrants could lose public contracts for three years and the right to do business in Mississippi for a year.
The law also makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to accept a job in Mississippi. A message was left with the district attorney's office after hours seeking comment on whether he would use the law to bring state charges against Howard Industries or the workers.
The Mississippi raid is one of several nationwide in recent years.
On May 12, federal immigration officials swept into Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Iowa. Nearly 400 workers were detained and dozens of fraudulent permanent resident alien cards were seized from the plant's human resources department, according to court records. In December 2006, 1,297 were arrested at Swift meatpacking plants in Nebraska and five other states.

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