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Meat packing plants raided for illegal workers

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Raids in 6 States Met With Anger, Cheers
Dec 13, 5:31 AM (ET)


GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - Outside a meatpacking plant fence here, a frustrated Tony Garcia watched as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed inside.

"We need help," he yelled to them. "We need answers."

There were few of those Tuesday as agents began their initial sweep through Swift & Co. plants in six states, arresting illegal immigrants who had bought or stolen other people's identities to help them get Swift jobs.

Garcia, who said he has friends who work at the Greeley plant, was worried about the fate of schoolchildren whose parents were arrested. "Who is going to pick them up?" he asked.

The raids capped a 10-month investigation into an identity-theft scheme that may have hundreds of victims, both U.S. citizens and legal residents, officials said.

Authorities did not say how mnay people were arrested at the plants in Greeley; Grand Island, Neb.; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn.

The United Food and Commercial International Workers union said it would ask federal judges in all six states to halt the raids. Union spokeswoman Jill Cashen said attorneys were gathering details before filing the requests.

No charges had been filed against Swift. In a written statement, President and CEO Sam Rovit said the company has never knowingly hired illegal workers and does not condone the practice.

Immigration officials last month informed Swift that it would remove unauthorized workers on Dec. 4, but Swift asked a federal judge to prevent agents from conducting the raid, arguing it would cause "substantial and irreparable injury" to its business.

Swift estimated that a raid would remove up to 40 percent of its 13,000 workers. After a closed hearing, a judge on Thursday rejected Swift's request, clearing the way for the raids.

The six Swift plants targeted Tuesday represents all of the company's domestic beef processing capacity and 77 percent of its pork processing capacity. Greeley-based Swift describes itself as the world's second-largest meat processor with sales of about $9 billion.

Swift uses a government pilot program to confirm whether Social Security numbers are valid. Company officials have raised questions about the program's ability to detect when two people are using the same number.

Advocates of stricter immigration control praised the raids, pointing out they targeted people suspected of committing other crimes in addition to entering the nation illegally.

"I'm glad that ICE is enforcing our immigration laws in light of the illegal immigration crisis we face across the country," Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said in a statement.

Others criticized the effect on families or called the raids heavy-handed.

"They are taking mothers and fathers and we're really concerned about the children," said the Rev. Clarence Sandoval of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church in Logan, Utah. "I'm getting calls from mothers saying they don't know where their husband was taken," he said.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department pledged to ensure that any Mexicans caught up in Tuesday's raid have "their human rights fully respected, and are given all the necessary assistance, orientation and consular protection."

Immigration agents have also staged immigration raids at poultry plants in the South. In July 2005, nearly 120 people were arrested at an Arkadelphia, Ark., facility. Three months ago, agents raided a poultry plant in Stillmore, Ga., arresting a similar number who worked there or lived in surrounding counties.

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