Migdalia couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, her whole body ached. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she told her children. She thinks the pains began in late June, around the time that President Donald Trump announced massive immigration raids across the country. On August 7, the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers stormed her workplace, her feet ached. “I could feel it coming, that’s what was happening to me,” Migdalia said, her electronic ankle bracelet flickering on her leg.
For 14 years, Migdalia had been slicing chicken breasts and pulling entrails at the chicken processing plant at Koch Foods Inc. in Morton, Mississippi. She was arrested there in August, as ICE targeted seven factories owned by five different chicken companies around Mississippi, taking with them 687 workers, almost all of whom were undocumented Hispanics. It was the largest immigration raid in history in a single state.
Two months later, some 300 people who were arrested in that raid remain detained at two ICE centers in Louisiana. The majority have not yet had the opportunity to defend themselves in front of an immigration judge. Among them, about 90 people have been charged in criminal courts with a count of identity theft, for working with Social Security numbers that were not theirs. None of the companies targeted in the raid have been charged with immigration or labor law violations.
Migdalia feels comparatively lucky. (Like other workers interviewed for this story, her name has been changed to protect her privacy.) She was released the same night of the raid, wearing the ankle monitor. But she cannot work, and she has an appointment before an immigration judge in February that could end with her deportation to Guatemala, where she was born 38 years ago and where she hasn’t returned for 20 years.
“I’ve been here for a long time. My children were born here and I’ve given them a better life. But unfortunately [ICE] came in and now I don’t know what I’m going to do. The future has changed, I realize now,” Migdalia said in an interview in September.
Her two American children noticed the change immediately. The oldest, who is 14 and in high school, told her mother that she would leave school to work and pay the bills. And the youngest, who is 9 and plays in the school band, is afraid each day that when he comes home, his mother won’t be there.
“I tell them not to cry, that no one is coming for me,” said Migdalia. “I don’t want them to miss school. I don’t have papers, but they are citizens, I don’t want them to be ruined like I am, working in those plants.”
The undocumented workforce is what has kept the chicken factories in Mississippi operating for decades.
Migdalia was born in the state of Quetzaltenango into a poor family of nine sisters. When she was 18, she walked alone for 12 days to cross the southern border of the United States. She first arrived in Alabama, where she met the father of her children. He left her, four months pregnant, for one of her younger sisters. She then went to Mississippi to look for work in the chicken factories using documents she bought on the black market.
“I didn’t even know that I needed papers in this country. I got some that weren’t mine, and I just worked there. I applied in the morning and went to work in the afternoon,” Migdalia recalled.