On August 8 2019, Facebook user Lora Kay Morrow shared the following photograph (archived here), purportedly showing a distressed young girl whose parents were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on her first day of school in Mississippi:
In an appended comment, Morrow wrote:
This is her first day of school picture. She didn’t get to come home to milk and cookies or loving arms. She came home to an empty house and her parents had been taken. 680 people suddenly disappear in a small Mississippi town because they worked illegally in a chicken processing plant.
Strangers are taking care of her now at a local shelter. Humane immigration reform is desperately needed. When are we going to address this issue?
In just a few hours the image was shared nearly 10,000 times, but the circumstances were not immediately apparent from the Facebook post. A reverse image search led to a WJTV article published early the same day, which included the image.
The headline was, “Children of undocumented immigrants arrested in Mississippi rely on strangers for food and shelter,” and the story began:
Following a massive undocumented immigration enforcement operation resulting in more than 650 arrests, many children of those taken into custody were left temporarily homeless.
Community leaders in Forest, Mississippi brought the children to a community gym to provide care and comfort. 12 News reporter Alex Love was granted permission to talk to community leaders and the children.
Children relied on neighbors and strangers to pick them up outside their homes after school. They drove the children to a community center where people tried to keep them calm. But many kids could not stop crying for mom and dad.
The article noted that the immigration status of the detained parents was not clear, and the number of parents detained was in the several hundreds:
This came after ICE agents raided several food processing plants in Mississippi arresting 680 people believed to be in the country illegally.
The same image appeared in photosets of children left without their families just after the raids:
More images as volunteers try to feed the kids donated food and drinks for dinner tonight. But most children are still devastated and crying for their parents and can’t eat. FULL STORY TONIGHT ON @WJTV. #FocusedOnYou pic.twitter.com/C6uV6A7Lng
— Alex Love (@AlexLoveWJTV) August 8, 2019
Following the August 7 2019 raids, children were transported to a gym as local leaders scrambled to find shelter for them. According to news reports, chaos emerged in the wake of the raid:
In Scott County, teachers and staff are on standby. To make sure a child doesn’t go home to an empty house, bus drivers have been given strict instructions to have a “visual reference to a parent or guardian” before they drop the student off. If there is not a parent home, the child will be taken back to school, [Superintendent] McGee said.
The buses had not yet left the school when McGee spoke with the Clarion Ledger.
“We’re going to be here at the school until we make sure that every child is home safe or has a safe place to go,” he said. “We’re going to make sure our kids are taken care of first.”
In the ensuing havoc, the mayor of Jacksonville decried the immigration raids:
The mayor of Jackson is calling on churches in the city to provide safe havens for the immigrant community in light of federal raids on several Mississippi processing plants.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in a statement called the U.S. immigration raids Wednesday “dehumanizing and ineffective.”
The mayor then called on “faith institutions” in the community to become sanctuaries for “our immigrant neighbors.”
Later on August 8 2019, fewer than half of those detained had been released. It was not immediately clear why they were detained — or why they were released. A spokesman for ICE would only say determinations were made on “a case-by-case basis based on the totality of their circumstances.”
The image circulating on Facebook was authentic, unaltered, and aligned with the description. The girl shown here was one of many children whose parents were seized and detained in a massive sweep on the children’s first day of school in Mississippi.