Trump administration officials on Sunday defended recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids across seven Mississippi food-processing plants last week that resulted in the arrest of 680 workers.
“Something like this has been planned for over a year,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “This a criminal investigation with 14 federal warrants issued by a judge, and ICE had to follow through on that. It was already planned and in motion.”
Story Continued Below
McAleenan was pressed by NBC host Chuck Todd on the arrests of hundreds of undocumented workers, but not their employers, who McAleenan acknowledged were “exploiting undocumented workers.”
DHS is in the “middle of an ongoing investigation,” McAleenan responded.
“You get a warrant from a federal judge with probable cause. You then go gather evidence at the sites. And then you look at the appropriate charges in concert with the Department of Justice and U.S. attorney to see how you proceed,” he said, before later adding: “You can’t ignore people that are there without the proper permission to be in the United States.”
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also defended the Mississippi arrests on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Morgan said they were not “raids,” but “targeted law enforcement operations.”
It “was a joint criminal investigation with ICE and the Department of Justice targeting work-site enforcement, meaning companies that knowingly and willfully hire illegal aliens, so that, in most cases, they can pay them reduced wages, exploit them further for their bottom line,” he said.
Asked whether it was important for businesses to not employ individuals who are in this country illegally and exploit them, Morgan agreed, but said it was “two-fold.”
“I think the American people need to understand that is exactly what is happening,” he said. “These individuals seeking a better life first are being exploited by the cartels to come here. … Once they come in the United States, then they’re further exploited by United States companies by paying them reduced wages. But that is only the first element of this.
“These aren’t undocumented immigrants. They are illegal immigrants. They are here in this country illegally,” he added. “They’re obtaining jobs illegally.”
McAleenan acknowledged on NBC that the timing of the ICE arrests “was unfortunate.” But he said ICE “took great pains to make sure that there were no child dependent-care issues that were ignored.”
It “was done with sensitivity,” he said.
McAleenan also did not answer whether he would accept the role of DHS secretary permanently, if nominated.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is my home, my agency, my dream job. But I’m honored to serve in this role. I think there’s tremendous capability at DHS that we can continue to improve,” he said.