ICE Came for a Tennessee Town’s Immigrants. The Town Fought Back.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — One morning in April, federal immigration agents swept into a meatpacking plant in this northeastern Tennessee manufacturing town, launching one of the biggest workplace raids since President Trump took office with a pledge to crack down on illegal immigration.

Dozens of panicked workers fled in every direction, some wedging themselves between beef carcasses or crouching under bloody butcher tables. About 100 workers, including at least one American citizen, were rounded up — every Latino employee at the plant, it turned out, save a man who had hidden in a freezer.

The raid occurred in a state that is on the raw front lines of the immigration debate. Mr. Trump won 61 percent of the vote in Tennessee, and continues to enjoy wide popularity. The state’s rapidly growing immigrant population, now estimated to total more than 320,000, has become a favorite target of the Republican-controlled State Legislature. In 2017, Tennessee lawmakers passed the nation’s first law requiring stiffer sentences for defendants who are in the country illegally. In April, they passed a law requiring the police to help enforce immigration laws and making it illegal for local governments to adopt so-called sanctuary policies.

But Morristown, a town of 30,000 northeast of Knoxville that was the boyhood home of Davy Crockett, has drawn migrant workers from Latin America since the early 1990s, when they first came to work on the region’s abundant tomato farms. As stepped-up security has made going back and forth across the border more difficult, many of these families have settled into the community, enrolled their kids in school, and joined churches where they have baptized their American-born children.

So the day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Southeastern Provision plant outside the city and sent dozens of workers to out-of-state detention centers was the day people in Morristown began to ask questions many hadn’t thought through before — to the federal government, to the police, to their church leaders, to each other.

By Miriam Jordan for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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