There was a man—call him Max, the name he went by at work, or Pancho, as he was known to his family and friends, or Francisco Garcia-Rodriguez, the name recorded on his birth certificate, or Sealed Defendant 3, the title under which he would eventually be indicted by a grand jury in Texarkana. He was 37 years old and lived in the East Texas town of Mount Pleasant. A father of five, he worked in the mornings and brought his kids to the park in the afternoons. He rooted for the Pumas, a Mexico City soccer team, and took an interest in politics and current events; he was a longtime Reader’s Digest subscriber and had recently plowed through the Spanish translation of Bill Clinton’s autobiography. His job was to load boxes of frozen chicken parts onto trailers at a chicken-processing plant owned by Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, a place locals would often just call Pilgrim’s. He’d worked there for nearly twenty years.
One morning last April, Francisco arrived at the plant, as usual, a little before seven a.m. Right away he sensed that something was amiss. There were very few trailers to load, and his supervisor had a somber look on his face. Fifteen minutes into his shift he was summoned by the superintendent and informed that there was a payroll problem. He would have to go to the human resources office to resolve it. Rather than let him make his own way across the plant complex, the superintendent told Francisco he would drive him.
The superintendent, a tall, skinny white man, said nothing as they walked to his truck. Once in the cab, he asked Francisco how his kids were doing. They’re doing well, Francisco said. Moments earlier, just after he’d opened the passenger door, it had occurred to him that he could make a break for it, but the impulse hadn’t traveled as far as his arms and legs. It was as if he’d gone into shock. He already feared—all but knew—what the trouble was. He was not in the country legally. Yet he reasoned that if people were to look at his record, they’d see that it was clean, that he’d been working at Pilgrim’s for many years, that he had a family to support. He didn’t realize how bad it was going to get.
Before dawn that morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had set up a base of operations in an old precinct barn on the edge of town and fanned out in a fleet of sport-utility vehicles. A detachment had established itself within the human resources office at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant, while squads of agents in black police vests, sidearms strapped to their legs, had ranged around Mount Pleasant searching for other workers, supported by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies. At a Victorian house on Third Street they rousted a young woman out of the shower with their banging and kicking, and when she declined to let them in because she was wearing only a towel, they told her to stand by her patio door while they spent the better part of an hour peering in the windows. At Productos Hernandez, a produce market, they trooped around the cartons of onions and chiles, checking the receiving area and the storage cooler and the restroom and the back office. They hit multiple houses on First Street. They surrounded a dingy little duplex at the corner of Arkansas and Lide. They questioned the owner of a Western-wear store as to the whereabouts of a Pilgrim’s employee who earlier, at the plant, had pushed his boss out of the way and fled.
The morning sunshine gave way to clouds. Parents pulled their kids from school. The priest at the Catholic church helped a parishioner’s sister-in-law sneak out the back of a house while agents cased two others on the same street. A mother and her four children took refuge with one of the kids’ science teachers. Other families hid at ranches in the country.
Francisco’s wife, Maria Garcia, was working her 2:30 a.m.-to-11 a.m. shift at a trucking company when her sister-in-law called and told her that ICE had picked up some of the workers at Pilgrim’s. Had Maria heard from her husband? She had not. She called his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. After work she picked up her three-year-old twins from school and went home.
Early in the afternoon, ten or so black-clad agents arrived at the door looking for someone she didn’t know, somebody named Cortez. She let them search the house. Maria was in the U.S. legally, so she didn’t fear for herself. Like many immigrant families, hers was composed of people with different legal statuses. Her husband was illegal, she had a temporary permit, and their children were all citizens—an ordinary enough situation that was about to make her life extraordinarily complicated.
Later on, through the open blinds on the living room window, Maria saw a friend of Francisco’s from work get out of a car holding a small black object—and knew immediately what that meant. Once the friend had left, she thumbed through the contents of her husband’s wallet—pictures of the kids, business cards, driver’s license, company lunch tickets—and then pressed it to her chest and cried. She felt half her body go numb. Still, she fixated on the notion that he might have somehow run away and gone into hiding, even after one of her sisters called and said Francisco had been on the five o’clock news, even after she drove over to her parents’ house and watched the segment on her brother’s computer. Not until Francisco called did she bury the hope that he’d escaped, along with many of the ideas she’d had about her family’s future. All that seemed to have come to an end, she would later recall: “On that day all our goals were shattered into pieces.”
For others in Mount Pleasant, the raid had registered only slightly. It was a handful