Travel to Arkansas

INS Raid of Poultry Plant

In July of 2005, immigration agents raided a poultry plant in Arkadelphia, a city in southwest Arkansas, arresting more than 100 workers or about half the day shift. As officials told everyone to freeze, some workers began to cry, while others called relatives on cell phones in order to ensure that their children were cared for when they got deported to Mexico. The impact of the raid, as well as the possibility of future raids, was undermined by two subsequent events.

First, about 60 percent of the deported workers returned to Arkansas and were working in the area within the year. These workers belong to churches, have kids in school (who are often U.S. citizens and have never seen Mexico), own homes, and are stable members of the community.

Second, the small-town environment of Arkadelphia prompted many local residents to be sympathetic with migrants and their employers and angry with the government for removing members of their community. In some cases, they even thwarted government officials in their efforts to crack down on document fraud and illegal hiring. Some members of the community had not even been aware that their friends were undocumented until the raid. For years these community members had been sharing food, vacationing together, playing on sport teams, and attending church with their Mexican friends. As a result, after the raid, some residents helped immigrants fight deportation or return to southwest Arkansas from Mexico.

As prominent citizens of the town, Republican governor (and presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee and Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln both strenuously resisted federal officials on the issue of workplace raids. When asked by federal officials to charge workers with the forgery of Social Security cards, the local county prosecutor who by now counted Mexicans among his friends told the agents he would think about their request. His reluctance to prosecute (and essentially deport) people who paid taxes, raised families, and had kids in schools was supported by the town sheriff. These prominent townspeople did

nothing and were subsequently left out of the loop when the raid finally happened. For his part, Governor Huckabee, instead of jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, called for a White House investigation into why this particular poultry plant was targeted: Our first priority should be to secure our borders. I’m less threatened by people who cross the line to make beds, pick tomatoes or pluck chickens than by potential terrorists.8 Huckabee also donated $1,000 to the workers’ families.

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