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Acting Border Patrol chief on Mississippi ICE raids: ‘These aren’t raids’

Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, greets people after a roundtable discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Customs and Border Protection station in McAllen, Texas, on July 12, 2019.

CAROLYN VAN HOUTEN/THE WASHINGTON POST

By FELICIA SONMEZ | The Washington Post | Published: August 11, 2019

Acting customs and border protection commissioner Mark Morgan said Sunday that the mass immigration raids at Mississippi workplaces last week were not “raids,” disputing the terminology that has been used widely to describe the operation.

“I think words matter. These aren’t raids. These are targeted law enforcement operations,” Morgan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In recent days, U.S. authorities have defended the raids strongly amid outrage over images of weeping children arriving home to find their parents missing. The operation also has exposed what state and local officials say is a major shortcoming in ICE procedures for dealing with children, with parents caught up in immigration-related enforcement activities while at work unable to pick their children up from school, day-care centers and elsewhere, leaving some of them deserted and scared.

“In this case, this 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,” Morgan said Sunday. “That’s what this investigation was about — a criminal investigation.”

Prosecuting corporations — as opposed to workers — for immigration-related offenses has slowed under the Trump administration, according to a database maintained by Duke University and the University of Virginia and data reviewed by The Washington Post, with only a handful of companies prosecuted for such violations since 2017.

Morgan suggested that videos of children crying after their parents were taken away were designed to elicit sympathy from the public.

“I know it’s emotional. I know it’s done on purpose to show a picture like that,” he said about a widely circulated video of a young girl crying and begging for her father to be brought back.

Morgan added that he “understands” why the girl is upset, “but her father committed a crime.” He said the girl was reunited with her mother later.

The acting customs and border protection commissioner also took issue with the phrase “undocumented immigrants” to describe those targeted by the raids.

“These aren’t undocumented immigrants. These are illegal immigrants,” he said.

Morgan parried questions about reports that President Donald Trump’s companies rely on undocumented immigrants. The Washington Post reported Friday that a Trump-owned construction company has employed undocumented immigrants for years, raising questions about how fully the Trump Organization has followed through on its pledge to scrutinize the legal status of its workers more carefully.

Asked why the federal government is turning a blind eye to the reports about Trump’s companies, Morgan said he was offended by the question.

“What I can tell you is, in my 25 years, I take offense to saying anyone’s turning a blind eye to someone who’s violating the law,” he said.

Morgan also disputed the notion that there has never been a raid or investigation into Trump’s companies.

“You really can’t say that for sure, because there are investigations going on all the time … and we shouldn’t be aware of those investigations” because it could jeopardize them, he said.

The Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Joshua Partlow contributed to this report.

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