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Lawuit Filed Over Immigration Raids

posted on September 14, 2007


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- A union representing workers at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants sued federal immigration authorities Wednesday, alleging agents violated the workers' rights during raids by roughly handling even those not suspected of crimes. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the eight workers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek unspecified damages and an order to stop U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from conducting what the union says are illegal raids. ICE officials investigating identity theft arrested 1,297 workers at the plants in December, but union officials have said that more than 12,000 workers were detained against their will during the raids. Swift has estimated the financial impact at up to $50 million. Union president Joseph Hansen said workers were handcuffed and held for hours and denied access to phones, bathrooms, legal counsel and their families. "What happened to the Swift workers ... is absolutely an outrage," Hansen said Tuesday. According to ICE, 274 of those arrested during the raids were charged with identity theft or other crimes unrelated to immigration law. Nearly all were convicted, ICE spokesman Tim Counts said Tuesday. He disputed the claim that workers weren't allowed access to phones. Of those arrested for being in the country illegally, 649 had been deported as of March 1, according to the most recent numbers available from ICE. All were sent to Latin American countries. ICE returned to the plants in July and arrested 20 more people, including a human resources manager and a union representative on charges of recruiting and harboring illegal immigrants. The latter two cases are pending. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, names as defendants Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, the two agencies and unnamed federal agents who conducted the raids. A Department of Homeland Security official referred questions to ICE. Counts said ICE attorneys had not yet seen the lawsuit but planned to fight it. "From what we've heard from the complaints, they are baseless," Counts said. Counts said civil search warrants gave the agency the right to fully search the plants and question everyone there. Workers were allowed to use their cell phones, company phones and even the phones of federal agents during the operation, he said. The Food and Commercial Workers union represents 1.3 million workers in the United States, including 250,000 workers in packing and food processing. The plants raided were in Grand Island, Neb.; Cactus, Texas; Greeley, Colo.; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn. Swift attorney Chad Hamilton declined to comment Wednesday because the company is not a party in the lawsuit. Brazilian firm JBS S.A. acquired Swift from a private equity firm for about $1.5 billion in July, making the company the world's largest beef processor.


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