At County Jails, Corso’s Workers Tell Story of Immigration Enforcement

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Time ticked slower in Calhoun County jail’s Unit L as the last of the women detained in recent Ohio immigration raids wondered why they hadn’t left yet.

Cristina Hernandez-Mendez, 21, was scanning in plants at Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Castalia, Ohio, in early June when federal agents raided the nursery and its sister store in Sandusky, detaining more than 100 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Seven weeks later, Ms. Hernandez-Mendez was still waiting in civil detention for her first court hearing, 200 miles from her children, ages 3, 5, and 6.

“I know this is Immigration’s job,” Ms. Hernandez-Mendez told The Blade in a jailhouse interview, “but it breaks my heart.”

In the past two months, as the Trump Administration separated migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, it also launched two of the largest workplace immigration raids in a decade at two Corso’s locations in northern Ohio and at a meatpacking plant in Salem, a small city about 25 miles south of Youngstown.

And while the government scrambled to reunify families separated in the southwest, mothers detained in the heartland waited in county jails for hearings — a story growing more and more familiar in the Midwest, where ICE arrests are on the rise and where counties stand to gain financially.

In mid-July, The Blade met with four of Corso’s former female employees at Calhoun County jail, a low, brick building tucked beside the jet-black Justice Center in downtown Battle Creek, Mich. The women had been held there since the June 5 raid, when federal agents bearing donuts as bait interrupted early morning inventory to arrest those suspected of working in the country illegally.

Calhoun County jail enjoys a decades-long relationship with U.S. immigration agencies. Originally built to hold more inmates than local courts could supply, in 1999 Calhoun County jail started housing detainees for the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services to offset operating costs, Sheriff Matthew Saxton told The Blade.

By LILY MOORE-EISSENBERG for THE BLADE
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