Immigration Raid Shuts Down Jones County's Largest Employer

LAUREL, MS (WLOX) - Federal Immigration Agents raided Howard Industries in Laurel Monday morning, taking dozens of illegal workers into custody.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wouldn't say how many illegal immigrants they believe were employed at the company. But Bill Chandler, Executive Director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said the number of arrests could be in the hundreds.

Workers leaving the plant Monday told reporters that so many people were arrested, the plant had to shut down. ICE agents offered few details of the investigation.

"If someone is found to be in violation of immigration laws, they will have due process under law. They will have the opportunity to present the facts of their case before an immigrations judge. If the judge determines they are ineligible to remain in the country and orders them deported, then certainly we will carry out those orders of removal," said Barbara Gonzales with ICE.

Howard Industries is the number one employer in Jones County with more than 3,000 people on the payroll. That's according to the Jones County Chamber of Commerce. The company produces commercial and industrial products ranging from electrical transformers to medical supplies.

In 2002, Howard Industries was given $31.5 million tax dollars to expand operations. The state required the company to create 2,000 new jobs. The Mississippi Development Authority said in 2002 that if Howard falls short of employment goals, the state would take away $3,000 for each job not created.