Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, on Sunday downplayed an emotional video showing an 11-year-old girl sobbing and begging for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to let her parents go following raids on Mississippi food processing plants.
“I understand that the girl is upset and I get that. But her father committed a crime,” Morgan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State on the Union.” Morgan said the girl was reunited with her mother shortly after the video was shot.
The acting CBP chief’s comments come after US immigration authorities detained some 680 undocumented immigrants this week in what a federal prosecutor described as a record-setting operation.
US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Mike Hurst told reporters the arrests took place at seven sites in six different cities in Mississippi on Wednesday. The raids, he said, are “believed to be the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history.”
‘I need my dad’
In the video that drew attention online following the operation, the girl pleads: “Government, please put your heart – let my parents be free with everybody else, please.”
“I need my dad … mommy,” the girl cries as she speaks with a local television station outside a gym. “My dad didn’t do nothing. He’s not a criminal.”
Morgan seemed to dispute the use of the video showing the young girl, saying, “I know its emotional and I know its done on purpose to show a picture like that.” He also suggested there were others who were victims.
“How about interview the people that – because a majority of time in the cases, these individuals that are here illegally, they also steal identities of US citizens, they get fraudulent documents, social security cards and et cetera and so it is not just a victimless crime that’s going on here,” he said.
When pressed on why no companies and very few individuals have been prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers in the first place, Morgan repeated that the operation was a joint criminal investigation between ICE and the Department of Justice targeting work site enforcement of immigration laws. Morgan told Tapper that investigators are still working under a criminal search warrant to collect information in the ongoing investigation.
After calling the situation at the border a “full blown crisis” earlier this week, Morgan on Sunday called the decline in apprehensions from month to month at the border a “huge step,” but emphasized that daily apprehensions are still at “crisis levels.” Morgan also said it is important to focus on demographics and expressed concern with the number of families being apprehended.
CNN’s Faris Bseiso and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.