By Mariya Strauss
On August 7, 2019, veteran civil rights attorney Cliff Johnson, who directs the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, got the news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had raided poultry processing plants in three small towns, taking a mind-boggling 680 people into custody.
The workers were being held at the National Guard Armory near Jackson where they were being processed into ICE detention. Johnson and others around the country sprang into tactical mode. “I am one small piece of a much bigger effort,” said Johnson, referring to a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that began responding to the crisis within 24 hours:
On that first night, we had a conference call that probably had 120 people on it. There was a relatively small group of local folks and a significant number of people from around the country, trying to formulate a response to this largest workplace raid in American history.
Johnson said it quickly became clear that there would be a need to raise money to bond people out of detention. “Into the night, ICE made the decision to release 300 people. . . So we had 300 people released, and 380 remained detained.”