The federal agents who raided a meat processing plant in Worthington, Minn., early Tuesday may have detained as many as 200 immigrants according to Bruce Nestor, an immigration attorney, who has been hired by at least seven of those detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
“There were 10 coach buses and some 100 ICE agents in front of the plant,” Nestor said in a telephone interview from Worthington, where he’s preparing to meet with his clients who are currently in custody.
He said that ICE agents were asking employees of Swift & Co., which owns all six plants raided nationwide on Tuesday, if they were U.S. citizens or not. Non-citizens were then asked to verify their legal paperwork, he said.
“People who didn’t have legal paperwork or left it at home were detained,” he said.
But he added that some family members of the detained were able to produce legal documents, freeing their loved ones from ICE’s captivity.
“It was a humiliating experience for them,” he said.
The Colorado-based Swift & Co. is the second largest meat processing company in the world, with over $8 billion in business. Over the last decade, the company has been screening its workers against a federal database that ensures the validity of social security cards. But that system failed to detect duplicate usage of social security numbers.
The company has not been charged in this case.
In a statement, the president and CEO of the company said: “Swift has never condoned the employment of unauthorized workers, nor have we ever knowingly hired such individuals.”
The Worthington plant employs some 2,300 workers.
In Washington, ICE chief told reporters that some undocumented immigrants were stealing identities and social security numbers of unwitting U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.
Nestor, the attorney for seven of the detained immigrants, said that he objects how ICE terms the possible violation.
“These people – if there are some – are forced to use false identifications to provide for their families,” he said. “And that’s completely different from the intentional fraud that ICE is describing.”
Surprise raids like Tuesday’s haven’t occured since the early 1990’s, but restarted in September of this year, “after the Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration law,” said Nestor.
“The raid caused a fear among people [in Worthington].”