Iowa Public Television


Workers Charged in Swift Case

posted on December 22, 2006

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Last week, federal agents arrested nearly 13-hundred undocumented workers during raids at six meatpacking plants operated by Swift and Company. The raids were the largest in U.S. history and they continue to impact the company -- and its employees.

Swift, the world's second-largest processor of fresh beef and pork, resumed limited production in the wake of the busts. And company officials suspect some of the workers who weren't arrested now are off the job caring for families, or those of other employees.

Late this week, Swift contributed a total of $300,000 to local United Way agencies to support those affected by the raids. While no criminal or civil charges have been filed against the company, the same cannot be said for those detained by federal agents.

Workers Charged in Swift Case This week, 200 of the 1,282 detainees charged with criminal conduct by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, were arraigned in various federal courts across the United States.

United States Attorney Matthew Whitaker, Southern District of Iowa: "I think it was a positive enforcement effort. I also understand the limitations. It's really a drop in the bucket for the numbers. If you look at all the potential employers of illegal workers, which is almost every company, in the United States I think it gets to be pretty dramatic."

Those arrested were charged with everything from unlawful employment, punishable by up to five years in jail, to the use of fraudulently obtained social security cards, punishable by up to ten years in jail. Before the raid, ICE agents had identified 4,300 "people of interest" they suspected of working in America illegally.

Special Agent Mark Cangemi, Immigration and Customs Enforcement: "Even though we arrested around 1,300 folks, there are still around 3,000 out that we have an interest in as an agency and we will give them an opportunity to tell their tale."

ICE officials said Swift & Company had been cooperative in the effort but an impasse eventually triggered the raid.

In an addition to employment violations, Cangemi (Can-JEM-ee) stated it was identity theft that prompted last weeks raids by federal agents.

Special Agent Mark Cangemi, Immigration and Customs Enforcement: "Some of the folks that we had an interest in had actually used their falsely acquired U.S. citizenship identity in an attempt to secure a U.S. passports. If this was just an employment case, which it is not, there would be no reason to attempt to acquire a U.S. passport."

Though none of the detainees have been deported formally, a small number have admitted to being in this country illegally and were sent back to their home countries.

Advocacy groups also have accused ICE agents of arresting single parents which left some minor children unattended. In Iowa, five people who ICE agents believed had children that would have been left alone, were released on their own recognizance and issued a summons to appear in federal court at a later date. US Attorney Whittaker stated up to 80 percent of those people most likely will not appear for their court dates.

Whitaker would not comment on whether or not charges would be brought against Swift.

Special Agent Mark Cangemi, Immigration and Customs Enforcement: "We do not have specific instances of parentless children wandering the streets of Marshalltown. I think a lot of this is being over exaggerated for political effect. The bottom line is that those issues were considered as part of the operation plan."

The government is not the only group with its eyes on the meat packer. A few days after the raid a group of 18 former employees sued Swift & Company for knowingly paying illegal immigrants lower wages. The owners of Swift, HM Capital Partners, say the $23 million lawsuit is completely without merit.

Tags: immigration industry jobs meat news