ICE raided a meatpacking plant. More than 500 kids missed school the next day
Updated 7:01 AM ET, Thu April 12, 2018
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(CNN)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.
Now, a week later, most are back in class. But the community is still reeling, Bailiff says.
Kids who are supposed to be learning about light waves, radio waves and the electromagnetic spectrum, she says, are instead wondering if they'll ever see their loved ones again.
"There's just fear and sadness written all over their faces," Bailiff says.
Teachers become students
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.
As rumors flew and fear mounted about what happened at the plant, activists say local teachers stepped in to help.
Some rode buses home with students that afternoon, said Colleen Jacobs, youth ministry coordinator at St. Patrick Catholic Church in nearby Morristown, Tennessee.
"When the students got to their homes, they weren't sure that there would be anyone there to meet them," she said.
On Friday, about 530 students didn't come to class in Hamblen County schools, Superintendent Jeff Perry said. That's about 5% of the district's roughly 10,000 students, and nearly a quarter of its Latino student population. A typical day might see around 75 absences.
Some of the students who didn't show up weren't directly affected by the raid, said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Refugee & Immigrant Rights Coalition.
"Other families are afraid that if their kids go to school and they go to work, that maybe they won't see each other again," she said.