Sunday, September 2, 2007

INB 9/2/07: Poultry Plant Raided, No-Match Letters Halted...

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 21 - September 2, 2007

1. Ohio Poultry Plant Raided
2. Judge Halts New "No-Match" Letters
3. Lawsuit Settled Over Kids' Detention

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499;

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At around 10am on Aug. 28, more than 300 federal and local officials swarmed the Koch Foods poultry processing plant in Fairfield, Ohio in a raid led by special agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE agents executed criminal search warrants at the site; they had identified 180 Koch employees at the Fairfield plant they wanted to question. By 4pm, ICE had arrested 161 suspected undocumented immigrant workers at the plant. ICE agents simultaneously executed criminal search warrants at Koch's corporate office in Chicago. [Cincinnati Enquirer 8/29/07; 8/28/07; ICE News Release 8/28/07]

ICE agents apparently found 12 of the workers hiding in a freezer. [ 8/28/07] Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE for Ohio and Michigan, admitted that some workers tried to hide in a subzero freezer; he said a few were treated for hypothermia, but no one was seriously hurt. [Cincinnati Enquirer 8/29/07] A spokesperson at Mercy Hospital in Fairfield said six people had been brought in with minor injuries including frostbite, and that all but one had been treated and released. [Reuters 8/29/07]

Twenty of the arrested workers face state charges of forgery and taking the identity of another person, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said on Aug. 29. Jones is an outspoken opponent of immigration who has lobbied Washington to crack down on employers who hire unauthorized workers. [Reuters 8/29/07] The workers facing criminal charges are from Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. All 161 of the arrested workers were served with notices to appear before an immigration judge for removal proceedings. In addition to Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, the countries of origin of the 161 arrested workers include Dominican Republic, Honduras, Lithuania, Ghana and Senegal. Eighty of the workers who are not facing state charges remain in ICE custody at the Butler County Jail; the other 61 were released on alternatives to detention for humanitarian purposes such as medical issues and sole care-giver situations. [Cincinnati Post 8/30/07 from Hamilton JournalNews]

The ICE raid was coordinated with the Southern District of Ohio's US Attorney's Office; the USDA Office of the Inspector General; Health and Human Services Department of Immigration Health Services; the Ohio Department of Public Safety; the Butler County Sheriff's Office; the Butler County District Attorney's Office; and Butler County Children's Services. [ICE News Release 8/28/07] Butler County Children's Services officials were at the plant during the raid to make sure no children were left without supervision because a parent or guardian was arrested.

The raid was part of a two-year investigation into the hiring practices at Chicago-based Koch Foods Co. Immigration officials described Koch Foods as an "egregious violator" of U.S. immigration laws, which means that the company is suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Local and federal authorities said they would pursue criminal charges against company officials if they find evidence of fraud, falsification of documents or other crimes. "We're going to look wherever the evidence takes us," said ICE special agent Moskowitz.

Company officials in Chicago declined to comment. Monte Lobb, a spokesperson for the Fairfield plant, said he has tried for several years to weed out undocumented workers, but federal authorities have offered him no help. "The government won't work with me," said Lobb. He said the raid put such a dent in his work force of about 600 that the company could lose as much as $100,000 in chicken because no one was there to package it. Lobb said the company does its best to determine whether the workers it hires are here legally. "I'm against illegals," he said. "I'm not going to do anything to break the law, but people get false papers." Koch Foods has processing and packaging centers in several states, including Georgia, Illinois and Alabama.

Advocates for immigrants said the raid was an arbitrary and unfair action that hurts immigrant families and does nothing to solve fundamental flaws in US immigration law. About a dozen protesters briefly interrupted federal officials at the start of an Aug. 28 news conference on the raid. "These raids are an outrage," said Dan LaBotz, a member of the Coalition for the Rights and Dignity of Immigrants. "These are working people. These are family people, and they're paying taxes." [Cincinnati Enquirer 8/29/07]


On Aug. 31, Judge Maxine M. Chesney of the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Social Security Administration (SSA) from sending "no-match" letters to companies whose employees' names do not match the Social Security numbers they used when they applied for their jobs. The letters were scheduled to be sent on Sept. 4 to about 140,000 employers with at least 10 workers whose names and Social Security numbers don't match. Chesney's order also prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing a new rule, set to go into effect Sept. 14, under which the affected companies would have to resolve any discrepancies within 90 days or face sanctions, including fines.

A coalition of labor and immigrant rights groups, led by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the AFL-CIO labor federation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had filed the lawsuit on Aug. 29 against the SSA and DHS, arguing that the Social Security database is full of errors and the new rule would lead to discrimination against documented and US citizen workers and result in unfair firings. After a hearing on Aug. 31, Chesney wrote in her ruling that the plaintiffs "raised serious questions as to whether the new Department of Homeland Security rule is inconsistent with statute."

"The balance of harms tips sharply in favor of a stay based on plaintiffs' showing that they and their members would suffer irreparable harm if the rule is implemented," Chesney wrote. A hearing before District Judge Charles Breyer is scheduled for Oct. 1 to let DHS argue against a request for a permanent injunction to bar implementation of the new policy.

"This is a critical and important first step," said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project said of Chesney's ruling. "It means that workers will not be threatened as a result of an improper rule or inaccurate notices that were about to be sent out." Marielena Hincapie, director of programs at the National Immigration Law Center, said she was hopeful the court would find at the October hearing that the rule was not valid and that DHS had acted "beyond its legal authority." [Los Angeles Times 9/1/07; Press Release from NILC, ACLU, AFL- CIO 8/31/07]

The complaint can be found at:
Chesney's order can be found at


On Aug. 27, the ACLU announced a settlement with ICE that improves conditions for immigrant children and their families inside the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, a former medium security prison managed for ICE by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America. The case was to go to trial in Austin on Aug. 27. The settlement was approved on Aug. 30 by Judge Sam Sparks of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. "Though we continue to believe that Hutto is an inappropriate place to house children, conditions have drastically improved in areas like education, recreation, medical care, and privacy," said Vanita Gupta, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.

The settlement addresses 10 lawsuits filed in March 2007 against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and six ICE officials on behalf of 26 immigrant children between the ages of 1 and 17 who were detained at Hutto with their parents. [ACLU Press Release 8/27/07; Houston Chronicle 8/28/07; AP 8/30/07] Nearly all of them were awaiting determinations on their asylum claims. As the lawsuits progressed, all 26 plaintiffs were released. The final six children were released just days before the settlement was finalized, and are now living in freedom with family members while pursuing their asylum claims. They include Andrea Restrepo, a 12-year-old girl from Colombia, who was held in a small cell at Hutto for nearly a year with her mother and 9-year-old sister. "I feel much better, I feel tranquil, I can do things now I couldn't do there," said Restrepo. "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. I feel free. It was a nightmare." [ACLU Press Release 8/27/07]

Toronto-born 10-year-old Kevin Yourdkhani, another of the original 26 plaintiffs, was skeptical. "I trust nobody there," he said. "It's good that they are fixing up the problems but they should just shut it down." Yourdkhani was detained with his parents at Hutto earlier this year for 45 days before Canada agreed to accept them and reconsider the parents' case. There are currently about 100 children being held at Hutto. [Toronto Star 8/29/07]

Conditions at Hutto have gradually improved as a result of the lawsuits. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents. "This agreement with ICE will make permanent important changes that already have been made and will ensure additional improvements in the future," said Gouri Bhat, an attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project.

Soon after the lawsuits were filed, ICE changed its policy and began using the Hutto facility mainly to detain families caught crossing the border who are to be quickly deported under the "expedited removal" program, and began to issue bonds to allow the release of families who had passed credible fear interviews and were waiting decisions on their asylum cases. Under the settlement, if a family is held for 30 days, government officials will have to consider releasing them on bond. If a family is held longer than 60 days, government officials must explain why.

The settlement also requires ICE to allow children over the age of 12 to move freely within Hutto; provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician; eliminate the "head count" system that required families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day; install privacy curtains around toilets; offer field trip opportunities to children; supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books; and improve the nutritional value of food. ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants' rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE's continued compliance with such reforms will be subject to independent monitoring by the judge assigned to mediate the case, US Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin. [ACLU Press Release 8/27/07; Houston Chronicle 8/28/07]

"We are thrilled at what we were able to accomplish through litigation and mediation," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. "But the fact remains that our government should not be locking up innocent children--period. That is not what America is about. It is time for Congress to intervene and end the policy of family detention." More information about Hutto and the ACLU's litigation is available online at: . [ACLU Press Release 8/27/07]

In an Aug. 27 statement, ICE defended conditions at Hutto and said it welcomed the judge's outside monitoring because it "will help improve communication about the facility and end any misconceptions and allegations falsely made about the Hutto facility." [Houston Chronicle 8/28/07]


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