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Vol. 71/No. 29      August 6, 2007

 
ICE raids Swift plants, arrests 25
(front page)
 
BY HELEN MEYERS
AND FRANK FORRESTAL
 
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa—Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested more than 25 people July 10 who worked at Swift meatpacking plants in Marshalltown, Iowa; Worthington, Minnesota; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Grand Island, Nebraska; and Greeley, Colorado—the same plants which ICE agents raided last December. Many were picked up on the job.

Braulio Pereyra, vice-president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1149, was one of six workers arrested here in Marshalltown. The union local represents workers at the Swift plant and at the Tyson plant in nearby Perry, Iowa. Pereyra is charged with “harboring illegal aliens,” which carries a five-year maximum prison sentence.

“I’m worried about the reasons for Braulio Pereyra’s arrest,” said José, a kill floor worker at the Marshalltown plant who asked his last name not be used for fear of retaliation. “Many people could be picked up for what he is charged with.”

ICE spokesman Tim Counts called the latest raids a “continuation of the same investigation” that resulted in the arrests of nearly 1,300 Swift workers in six states last December. “Then, we were serving federal search warrants that permitted us to go into these plants and question every employee,” he said. “In this case, we were looking for specific individuals—a much more focused and highly targeted operation.”

The Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, four U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and two District Attorney’s Offices assisted in preparing the arrests.

ICE agents also arrested Christopher Lamb, assistant director of Human Resources at the Marshalltown plant. He was charged with “harboring illegal aliens” and “misprision of a felony,” or the failure to report a felony crime.

According to a front page article in the July 13 Des Moines Register, Lamb was the target of an ICE operation that included a worker, Alejandro Vasquez, who had been picked up in the December raid. ICE agents monitored conversations between Lamb and Vasquez via a concealed microphone the latter wore. Later, Vasquez applied for a job at the Swift plant with an ICE-provided valid Social Security card and a Texas birth certificate in the name of Anthony Gomez. He was rehired.

Counts called the arrests of both Pereyra and Lamb “significant.”

ICE agents entered the Grand Island, Nebraska, plant with warrants for five workers. Dan Hoppes, president of the UFCW local at the plant, said the raid “was done the right way this time. Not like the last time, for crying out loud.” In December, ICE agents arrested 261 workers at the Nebraska plant.

On the day of the raids, the UFCW issued a press release that said, “It does not appear that ICE engaged in the same level of intimidation and overkill as they did in its raids last Decemberů To the extent this is the case, the UFCW supports law enforcement efforts that abide by the law and respect the rights of workers.”

Later, Jill Cashen, spokesperson for the union’s national office, said in relation to Pereyra’s arrest, “This is the first time a union employee has been charged in an immigration case. We’re concerned and we’re anxious to get all the information to make sure he’s not being held accountable for things that are not his responsibility. We don’t hire. We’re not required to check immigration status.”

While most of the July 10 arrests took place at the plants, some workers were arrested in their homes. In at least one case, workers refused to talk to ICE agents.

“At about six in the morning three ICE agents knocked on my door asking for Juan, my husband,” Elizabeth Yepez, who is originally from Michoacán, México, told the Iowa Spanish-language weekly El Latino. “When I told them I didn’t know where he was they started to ask me if I had documents and I said that I wasn’t going to speak, that I wasn’t going to tell them if I had documents or not.”

Verónica Guevara, Juan and Elizabeth’s niece, rushed to the house while the ICE agents were there. “The agents were upset when I told my aunt to not answer them,” Guevara said. The ICE agents said they would return with an arrest order for Yepez.

After the cops left, Yepez took refuge at a nearby church with her children. Hours later the ICE agents returned with an arrest order, but she was no longer at home.

Two days after the raids, several dozen marched in Denver calling for an end to immigration raids and deportations. Two Swift supervisors were arrested July 10 in Greeley, Colorado, a town about 65 miles north of Denver.

Elsewhere, 13 workers were arrested at the Swift plant in Cactus, Texas, about 65 miles north of Amarillo. Lety Laura, a librarian in Cactus, was outside the plant in the early morning of July 10, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. She described two white vans and about a dozen ICE officials at the plant. A plane circled overhead while agents were at the facility.

All but 53 of the 295 workers arrested in the December raid in Cactus have been deported. Of the 1,297 Swift workers arrested nationwide on immigration charges as of July 12, 274 have been criminally charged with “identity theft” or related offenses.

Frank Forrestal is a worker on the kill floor at the Swift slaughterhouse in Marshalltown. Steve Warshell in Houston contributed to this article.
 
 
Related articles:
New York political activist Víctor Toro fights deportation
Judge blocks implementation of anti-immigrant law in Texas town  
 
 
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