In October, Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, said he had ordered agents to increase workplace enforcement actions "by four to five times.”
“We are taking worksite enforcement very hard this year,” Homan, who recently announced that he plans to retire, said in a speech. He added that ICE was going to both prosecute employers who knowingly hire people who are not legally allowed to work in the U.S. and deport those workers.
In January, immigration agents raided nearly 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide and arrested 21 people in what was then the biggest crackdown on a company since President Donald Trump took office.
On April 5, ICE's sweep came to Tennessee. ICE executed a search warrant at Southeastern Provision, a meat processing plant in Bean Station, according to Bryan Cox, spokesman for ICE’s southern region. ICE said it found 97 people at the site who were subject to deportation from the U.S.
Ten people were arrested on federal criminal charges, and one was arrested on state charges related to a fraudulent driver's license, according to Cox. The remaining 86 were arrested on administrative charges and placed in deportation proceedings, Cox said. Of that group, 54 were placed in detention centers and 32 were released from custody while they await hearings.
Court documents show the plant was under investigation on charges of evading taxes, filing false federal tax returns and hiring immigrants who are not legally allowed to work in the U.S. Calls left at Southeastern Provision for comment were not returned. The plant’s owners have not been charged.
Hahn said she believed that the way ICE carried out the surprise raid was meant to intimidate workers. Advocates said a helicopter hovered over the plant that morning, and authorities blocked off the street outside.
"ICE made a decision to engage in the most aggressive form of enforcement at this work site," Hahn said, adding that the agency could have audited the meatpacking company rather than jumping to mass arrests.
Asked about ICE's tactics during the raid, spokesman Cox said, "I suspect most persons who violate federal law and are arrested for doing so wish they hadn’t been."
He added, "ICE will not turn a blind eye to persons it encounters who are in violation of federal immigration law."
Teatro told NBC News that 160 children had a parent arrested in the April raid, and 108 of them have a parent who is still in custody. (Even those workers who have been released still face deportation hearings.)
Teatro, whose group has been connecting families with legal aid, said the raid has left the community traumatized.
"This is just a huge void in their lives,” she said.
The remaining detainees have been going through their bond hearings, but it could be months before some of them will have their cases heard.
"Their legal fight is far from over," Teatro said.
Marce, 42, a stay-at-home mom in Morristown who said she had several family members detained in the Tennessee raid, was in complete shock when she heard ICE “took everyone.”
“I was so scared, I felt impotent, my legs were shaking,” said Marce, who also asked that her last name not be used out of concern for her family's safety. Among those detained and held in Louisiana was Marce’s brother, Ponciano, 50. Marce said her brother helped found a soccer league for children and adults in their community and that he helped raise her three children.
“Our lives were soccer and church,” she said. “He was the head of our family — the family needs him. The community needs him."
Marce said the raid had devastated her family.
“After that day, we’re affected emotionally," she said, her voice breaking. "We’re separated — they broke us, they took our confidence."