The raid by federal agents that nabbed almost 13-hundred undocumented workers at six meatpacking plants this week is rippling through the livestock industry. It's raised questions about the impact of hiring illegals ... about how the sudden loss of several hundred workers will affect daily slaughter or consumer prices ... and about the cost in human terms for those likely to be deported.
It's also reignited speculation on just what percentage of the meatpacking workforce is comprised of illegal or undocumented workers. For the feds, that answer clearly is too many.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE agents conducted the raids -- which would become the largest in U.S. history.
Sec. Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security: "Now this is not only a case about illegal immigration which is bad enough. It's a case about identity theft and violation of privacy rights and the economic rights of innocent Americans."
The arrests temporarily shut down operations at Swift facilities in six states as nearly nine percent of the workforce was detained for questioning. All of the 1,282 workers arrested face administrative charges for violating immigration laws and federal officials say criminal charges of identity theft will be filed against 65 of the workers.
In Iowa, where officials say the investigation began earlier this year, 90 workers were detained and one unidentified man spoke outside the Swift plant in Marshalltown.
Unidentified Man: "Everybody has to do what they have to do to make a living. I agree that it's wrong, but at the same time it's not because, you know, we are human beings."
Swift and Company is based in Greeley, Colorado where local officials said 800 employees were found to be working illegally and as many as 300 would be deported over the next week.
Swift officials released a statement saying,
"Swift has never condoned the employment of unauthorized workers, nor have we ever knowingly hired such individuals."
Sec. Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security: "The other thing that I'm hoping this is going to do is be a deterrent to illegal workers. It's going to cause them to say this happened in Swift. It could easily happen somewhere else. In fact, I'm pretty much guaranteeing you were going to keep bringing these cases."
Swift executives learned about the pending raids last month when ICE informed the company there would be a "mass removal" of undocumented workers at the plants. Swift requested an injunction saying the action could remove up to 40 percent of the company's 13,000 employees and cost as much as $100 milllion. A federal judge denied the injunction, but court records indicate Swift officials were aware of illegal immigration problems.
According to court documents, Swift voluntarily interviewed 450 suspected employees at several of its plants this fall and found that more than 90 percent were not who they claimed to be. Four hundred of those employees were fired or quit after the interviews. No civil or criminal charges have been filed against Swift.