Jessica Bailiff looked out at her class and saw empty desks where her students were supposed to be.
The physics teacher’s heart sank. She knew why they weren’t there.
The day before, federal authorities had swept through a nearby meatpacking plant, rounding up nearly 100 people they accused of being in the United States illegally.
Immigrant rights groups say last week’s operation in eastern Tennessee was the largest workplace immigration raid in a decade.
More than 500 students stayed home from school the next day.
The impact of the raid rippled quickly through the community, where immigrants have become a growing part of the population. Children sobbed as they shared their families’ stories at news conferences and prayer vigils. And teachers in local schools suddenly found themselves on the front lines of a crisis.
The massive operation at Southeastern Provision in Bean Station, Tennessee, came months after Trump administration officials vowed to at least quadruple work site immigration crackdowns.
But last Thursday’s raid took many in the community by surprise. In court documents, an IRS special agent says the plant’s owners are under investigation for allegedly evading taxes, filing false federal tax returns and hiring immigrants who are in the country illegally. The owners have not been charged and have not responded to requests for comment.
Federal agents arrested 97 immigrants that day, ICE spokeswoman Tammy Spicer said. Most of them face administrative charges for allegedly being in the United States illegally.
Of course the plant owners haven’t been charged. There are cases in the recent past of meatpackers calling immigration authorities to deport workers so they can stop them from unionizing. Meatpacking doesn’t have to be this exploitative and in fact it wasn’t for several decades in the mid-twentieth century, after the United Packinghouse Workers of America unionized the old Jungle. But with the Eisenhower administration, rural interests, and truckers wanting to decimate the unions to lower meat prices and make consumers happy, that ended with new entities such as Iowa Beef Packers and Tyson opening cheap production plants in rural America. With labor standards decimated in this unionbusting effort, a lot of American workers didn’t want to take these jobs. The solution became undocumented workers, who could be exploited as much as employers wanted, or so they thought. All of this has led to large undocumented communities in rural white America, causing racial tension and anger from racist whites.
And now, ethnic cleansing is eliminating those people.