(CNSNews.com) - Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that out of the 680 individuals arrested during raids on food processing plants throughout Mississippi last week, 200 of them had a criminal record.
“So again, this is a criminal investigation of the employers who are exploiting an undocumented workforce and skirting our laws. Now, when you do an operation at a worksite, you can't ignore people that are there without the proper permission to be in the United States. You don't know who they are. Over 200 of these individuals had a criminal record in the U.S.,” he said.
“Did you know this raid was going to happen this week, in advance? Were you informed of this? Was the president informed of this?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked.
“So the president doesn't run law enforcement operations. I was, of course, informed of it,” McAleenan said.
“There was no thought of postponing it even a week, even two weeks, considering the sensitivity of -- you saw the headlines. You've seen it, and I know you are-- want to be sensitive to this. Was there any thought of postponing it?” Todd asked.
“So these employers are exploiting undocumented workers. This is a situation where you have 680 arrests just in this one operation. That means those employers are just ignoring the law entirely in what they do. That's why a judge gave us a warrant to go after them, and this is the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation, and we do expect to continue forward with -- toward charges,” McAleenan said.
“You just said -- you were talking about the employers. The only people arrested were the employees. Why?” Todd asked.
“So as I said, we're in the middle of an ongoing investigation. 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,” McAleenan said.
“Look, this is what ICE has worked for -- this is what the website says. This is workforce enforcement. This is what it says on ICE's website. What you just -- ‘ICE will obtain indictments, criminal arrests, or search warrants, or commitment from a U.S. attorney's office to prosecute the targeted employer before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a work site,’” Todd said.
“This looks like the exact opposite. You arrested the employees, about half of whom have been released, perhaps because they were here legally. None of these employers, in fact, we had law enforcement tell us they couldn't even tell us which companies were targeted. Who committed the crime? Didn't the employer commit the crime?” he asked.
“Of course, and we do have those employers and names who we're targeting,” McAleenan said. “Look, we just finished an investigation very similar in Tennessee, over 150 arrests, 18 months ago. We now have an individual employer who's got a year-and-a-half sentence in federal prison for this effort. We're in the middle of a criminal investigation. This case will be pursued.”
McAleenan said that 75 percent of the people taken into custody by ICE “are coming from recent border entrants.”
“The remaining 25%, 85% of those are criminals or people that are mandatory detention. This group is the smaller part of this group, but you have to have a balanced enforcement strategy. We've got to start with our partners in Central America and Mexico,” he said.
“We've got to secure the border, but we also have to have interior enforcement to stop this incentive, this work opportunity, that we have in the U.S. that employers are exploiting, and we've seen that in this case,”McAleenan added.
McAleenan said he didn’t have information on how many of those arrested in Mississippi during the target enforcement investigation at food processing plants had green cards.
“They were all taken and processed, and I think it's important, Chuck. You had a lot of really sympathetic video there, and I want to tell you that ICE took great pains to make sure that there were no child dependent-care issues that were ignored,” he said.
According to McAleenan, "32 of the arrestees were released onsite, at the plant - another 270 within the first day of the operation.”
“That's 45% of the people arrested, released for humanitarian reasons, including childcare. They took this very seriously. They had a process with 14 different caseworkers and phones available to call and find parents and kids and make arrangements. So this was done with sensitivity.”