Sunday, June 29, 2008

INB 6/29/08: Raids at Houston Rag Company, Washington Aerospace Plant

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 14 - June 29, 2008

1. Houston Clothing Company Raided
2. Washington Aerospace Plant Raided
3. Tennessee Restaurants Raided
4. "Fugitive" Raids in Midwest

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; INB is also distributed free via email; contact to subscribe or unsubscribe. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is posted at


Early on June 25, some 200 agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Action Rags USA, an international supplier of used clothing and rags in Houston, Texas. The ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the plant and arrested 166 workers for administrative immigration violations. According to ICE, 135 of the arrested workers are from Mexico, 12 are from Honduras, 10 from Guatemala, eight from El Salvador, and the nationality of one is unknown.

Late on June 25, ICE officials confirmed that 130 of the 166 workers detained were female. ICE released 66 workers, including 10 who are pregnant, for humanitarian reasons such as medical and child care issues. The number of detainees released for humanitarian reasons was later revised to 73. ICE officials said four workers were taken to area hospitals after suffering from anxiety attacks and heat-related illness (the Action Rags plant is not air-conditioned); another woman was transported by helicopter to a local hospital after she fell 20 feet off a stack of wooden pallets in which she was hiding. "Right now, we're still trying to secure the interior because we found several individuals trying to locate hiding spaces inside," said Greg Palmore, spokesperson for ICE in Houston, on June 25.

ICE let 16 Action Rags workers go free after realizing that "[o]ne was a U.S. citizen and another 15 were here in status and are legally authorized to work," explained Bob Rutt, ICE special agent in charge in Houston. Rutt later revised those numbers, telling the New York Times that two US citizens and 13 to 19 legal residents were among those initially questioned during the raid. (These individuals were not counted among the 166 arrested workers.)

ICE began investigating Action Rags USA a year ago after learning about hiring practices from a former employee. Rutt said no member of the company's management has been arrested, but he confirmed that "the [ICE] office of investigation is looking at allegations of the hiring of illegal aliens, which is a crime." Arresting unauthorized workers was "a collateral part" of the investigation, said Rutt. "Our focus, ICE's overall focus, is targeting the employer." During the 2007 fiscal year, ICE made 863 criminal arrests and 4,077 administrative arrests nationally as a result of worksite enforcement, according to the agency’s statistics. [Houston Chronicle 6/25/08, 6/26/08; ICE News Release 6/25/08; New York Times 6/26/08; KHOU-TV (Houston) 6/26/08]

Action Rags lost its corporate status in July 2007 due to a tax forfeiture, according to Texas Secretary of State records. The records listed Mubarik Kahlon as the company's registered agent and director. Secretary of State spokesperson Scott Haywood confirmed that Action Rags is no longer a registered LLC in Texas. [HC 6/26/08]

On June 26, dozens of people protested the previous day's raid with a demonstration outside the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston. "Our question to the federal government is very simple," said Mike Espinosa with Houston Justice for Janitors. "How does putting a working woman in jail keep this country safer?" Protesters also said ICE should be held responsible for the injuries the workers suffered during the raid. [KPRC Local 2 (Houston) 6/26/08; KHOU-TV 6/26/08]


On June 26, ICE agents executed a federal civil search warrant at an aircraft manufacturing plant in Arlington, Washington, arresting 32 of the company's workers–16 women and 16 men--on administrative immigration violations. Two of the workers are from El Salvador; the others are from Mexico. The raid took place at Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. (AMT), a leading supplier of frame and interior parts for commercial and military aircraft. AMT provides many of the parts used in airplanes such as the Boeing 737 and Boeing 777. About 360 workers were at the job site when ICE agents showed up.

The probe into AMT began months earlier after ICE received a tip that the business was using undocumented workers, said ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers. ICE then audited AMT's employment records, which revealed discrepancies leading agents to believe that a small percentage of the company's employees used counterfeit documents to secure their jobs. According to ICE, there is no evidence AMT was aware that the workers had used false credentials. The investigation is ongoing and the company is cooperating, said Dankers. "We'll go where the evidence leads us," she said.

Four female workers were released on humanitarian grounds because they are primary caregivers to children. The other 28 workers were taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. [ICE News Release 6/26/08; Lynnwood Enterprise 6/27/08; 710 KIRO Radio 6/26/08]

A day earlier, on June 25, the Northwest Detention Center ended a six-day quarantine and lockdown that affected more than 900 of the 1,000 detainees held at the facility. The quarantine was imposed after one detainee fell ill with chickenpox; a second detainee showed signs of the infection on June 20. Doctors determined that all but 80 of the approximately 760 male detainees were immune from the disease after blood tests showed evidence of either the vaccine or a previous exposure. The 240 female detainees didn't require testing because they're segregated from the male population.

Court cases for detainees who are immune to chickenpox resumed on June 24, and deportations were to start again as early as June 25, said ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers. Visits from friends, family members and attorneys were to resume on June 26. Detainees who aren't immune to chickenpox will be quarantined through July 7. During that time, they can't be deported or receive visitors. Detainees who arrived after June 24 were being placed into the same residence pods as immune detainees. [News Tribune (Tacoma) 6/25/08]


On June 17, ICE agents raided three Chinese restaurants in central Tennessee owned by restaurant entrepreneur Stanley Wang, arresting a total of about 50 workers from Mexico, the People's Republic of China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malaysia and Indonesia. The raids took place at the New Famous Chinese Restaurant in Nashville, Chef Wang's in Murfreesboro and the Famous Chinese Restaurant in Smyrna. [The Tennessean 6/19/08; Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]

According to employees at Chef Wang's, agents entered the restaurant around 11am. "It was pretty weird. They took all the Hispanics from the back and were, like, frisking them, and they put them all in cuffs, set them down in the dining room and were talking to them in Spanish," said Brigitte Barbeau. At least 12 people were taken away, the employees said. "It was pretty dramatic. These are people that we work with every day. You know, we're like family here," said Stacy Cox. [ 6/18/08]

Federal agents, along with the Murfreesboro Police Department, also conducted an investigation at a Murfreesboro home in relation to the raids. Milissa Reierson, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said her department participated in the enforcement effort. The Metro Nashville Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol also assisted. [The Tennessean 6/19/08; Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]

It was not clear whether the Tennessee raids were connected to grand jury indictments handed down Apr. 15 in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [see INB 4/27/08]. The indictments charged 15 people from Georgia employment agencies with conspiring to supply undocumented workers to Chinese restaurants in a number of eastern states, including Tennessee. [Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]


Over a five-day period ending June 24, ICE Fugitive Operations Teams carried out a series of coordinated sweeps through southeast Wisconsin, the Chicago metropolitan area, southwestern Kansas and central Nebraska, arresting a total of 158 people, of whom fewer than 90 were "fugitives" who have failed to comply with deportation orders.

In Wisconsin, ICE arrested 38 people in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine counties, describing 16 of them as "fugitives" and 22 as "immigration violators encountered by ICE officers during their targeted arrests." Those arrested are from Albania, China, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. [ICE News Release 6/25/08] In its Chicago press release, ICE gave the total number arrested in the Wisconsin sweeps as 32.

In Chicago, Highland Park, Waukegan, Highwood, and elsewhere in the Chicago metropolitan area, ICE arrested 43 immigrants from Albania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Jordan, Mexico, Poland and Yugoslavia. ICE described 25 of those arrested as fugitives and 18 as immigration violators; 20 reportedly had prior criminal convictions. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]

In southwestern Kansas, ICE arrested 33 people in Garden City and 15 in Dodge City. Those arrested included five women and came from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Vietnam. ICE reported that 33 of the 48 people arrested had criminal convictions, but did not say how many were considered "fugitives." (Calculations based on conflicting figures in ICE’s Garden City and Chicago press releases suggest that somewhere between 14 and 20 of the 48 people arrested in Kansas were considered "fugitives" while 28 to 34 of the total were immigration violators.) ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok said most of the immigrants were arrested at their homes, but a few were arrested at work. He did not know whether any of the arrests occurred at the area's beef-packing plants. [ICE News Release 6/25/08; Dodge Globe 6/27/08]

[Garden City and Dodge City both have major meatpacking plants which employ large numbers of immigrants. During nationwide mobilizations for immigrant rights on Apr. 10, 2006, some 3,000-4,000 people marched in Garden City, a town with an estimated population of 28,000, while 2,000 marched in Dodge City, population 26,000. See INB 6/16/06.]

The raids were supervised out of the ICE office in Chicago, which oversees operations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]

In central Nebraska, ICE arrested 44 immigrants from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Most were arrested in Lexington (25 arrests) and Grand Island (12 arrests); two people were arrested in Broken Bow and one person was arrested in each of the following towns: Cozad, Gibbon, Hastings, Kearney and North Platte. Of the total, 28 were considered "fugitives" and 16 were described as immigration violators; 10 had criminal convictions. The Nebraska raids were coordinated out of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations in Bloomington, Minnesota, which oversees operations in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]


Contributions toward Immigration News Briefs are gladly accepted: they should be made payable and sent to Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012. (Tax-deductible contributions of $50 or more may be made payable to the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute and earmarked for "NSN".)

ORDER "The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers," a new book by the editors of Immigration News Briefs and Weekly News Update on the Americas, out now on Monthly Review Press: for details see publisher website:
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or email the authors at

Sunday, June 22, 2008

INB 6/22/08: Indian Workers Suspend Hunger Strike

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 13 - June 22, 2008

1. Indian Workers Suspend Hunger Strike
2. Deport Flight to Albania, Nigeria
3. California Farmworkers Arrested
4. No-Match Firings at California Farm
5. Arizona Water Parks Raided
6. Rhode Island: 42 Arrested in Fugitive Raid

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; INB is also distributed free via email; contact to subscribe or unsubscribe. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is posted at


On June 11, Indian workers who say they were forced into involuntary servitude under the H-2B visa program rallied in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) headquarters in Washington to demand that they be allowed to remain in the US to participate in a DOJ investigation into labor trafficking. A group of the workers had been carrying out a hunger strike in Washington since May 14, demanding congressional hearings into abuses of guest workers, talks between the US and Indian governments to protect future guest workers, and "continued presence" status under the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act so they can remain in the US and pursue their case.

The workers were employed by Signal International in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas, to work at Gulf Coast oil rig repair shipyards in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. On Mar. 7 a federal class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of about 550 of the H-2B workers against Signal and several recruiters and labor brokers, charging that they engineered a scheme to defraud the workers; on Mar. 18, over 100 of the workers launched a 10-day "journey for justice" from New Orleans to Washington [see INB 3/29/08].

The June 11 rally marked the suspension of the hunger strike. "With our hunger strike, we have won concrete actions that will help protect future workers from the nightmare of forced labor we suffered," said Sabulal Vijayan, a former Signal worker and member of the Indian Workers' Congress, a group formed by the H-2B workers with help from the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. "Because of the power of our hunger strike, 18 members of the U.S. Congress have written to the Department of Justice to demand continued presence on our behalf."

DOJ has "remained cold while these workers have taken extraordinary risks to open the world's eyes to the reality of guestworker programs," said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. "This suspension of the hunger strike gives the DOJ one last chance to fulfill its responsibility to combat the brutal reality of human trafficking," Soni said.

As the workers rallied in Washington on June 11, the labor rights network Jobs With Justice held solidarity actions in 10 cities across the US: Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; Knoxville, TN; Richmond, VA; Chicago, IL; Salt Lake City, UT; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; and San Francisco, CA. The previous week, Jobs With Justice members wrote over 9,000 letters to the US Congress in support of the workers. [Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Workplace Immigration Report Vol. 2, #12, 6/16/08; New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice Press Release 6/11/08]


US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 77 Nigerians and six Albanians on a flight that left Niagara Falls International Airport in upstate New York on June 4 headed for Albania and Nigeria. The immigrants removed on the flight had been held at various detention facilities around the US; they were brought to the Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York, shortly before the flight. ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Flight Operations Unit arranged the contract flight. ICE reported that "the majority of those removed had criminal histories and convictions" in the US.

ICE claims that in fiscal year 2007 it removed a record number of people--more than 284,000--from the US, "including over 41,000 who returned voluntarily to their country of nationality." ICE said "more than 93,000" of the deportees (less than a third of the total) had criminal histories. [ICE News Release 6/6/08]


On June 4, ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the business office of Boss 4 Packing in Heber, California, a locally-owned company that provides contract workers to farms in southern California's Imperial Valley. The search warrant remains under seal. Agents arrested two of the company's foremen on federal criminal charges for misusing Social Security numbers to employ unauthorized workers. One was arrested at his home near Brawley, California, while the other was arrested working in a nearby field. ICE also arrested 32 Boss 4 Packing employees--seven women and 25 men--on administrative immigration violations. Most of the workers were arrested in the Brawley area. One woman was released the same day on humanitarian grounds with orders to report for a removal processing interview, and one underage worker was turned over to relatives. Of the other 30 workers, 18 workers had already been returned to Mexico as of June 5, while 12 were being held as material witnesses in the ongoing investigation. [ICE News Release 6/5/08]


On June 9, Sun Valley Floral Farms in northern California's Humboldt County fired 283 employees after a letter from ICE informed the company that the workers are not eligible to work in the US because their Social Security numbers do not match government records. More than half of the company's workforce was laid off, according to Sun Valley Group CEO Lane DeVries. "It's like a neutron bomb hitting our company," DeVries said. "Some of these people worked with us for 17 years. Some were team leaders for 10 or 12 years. This is very devastating to the people involved." The latest ICE action against the company likely stems from investigations and raids that took place in the area nearly a year ago.

DeVries said Sun Valley's employment records were searched at that time, and approximately seven months ago, the company was asked to submit I-9 tax forms. [Times Standard (Eureka, CA) 6/10/08]

On June 16, a week after the firings at Sun Valley Floral, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that 33 custodians who were fired from their jobs at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2003 for having mismatched Social Security numbers were wrongfully terminated. The court ruled that discrepancies found in "no-match" letters the Social Security Administration sent to their employer, Aramark, did "not automatically mean that an employee is undocumented or lacks proper work authorization." The ruling requires the Los Angeles janitors to be rehired with back pay. It was the first federal appeals court in the nation to rule on no-match letters. [Arizona Republic (Phoenix) 6/19/08; San Francisco Chronicle 6/17/08]


On June 10, sheriff's deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona, raided two water parks in the Phoenix area and arrested nine workers on charges of suspicion of identity theft and using forged documents to obtain employment. The raid followed a four-month investigation of hiring practices at the sites.

The operation is being seen as a test case for a law that went into effect in Arizona in January 2008 which allows the state to suspend or revoke business licenses of employers who "knowingly" hire unauthorized workers. Authorities also used search warrants to seize personnel records, which they will use to investigate whether a violation of the state employer sanctions law occurred, said Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is known nationally for his aggressive targeting of immigrants.

The raids took place at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa and Waterworld Safari in Phoenix, both of which are owned by Phoenix-based Golfland Entertainment Centers; the company operates three parks in Arizona and six in California. A former employee at Waterworld Safari provided the tip that led to the investigation, said Arpaio. According to Arpaio, investigators believe as many as 104 additional employees at the parks might have used fraudulent documents or Social Security numbers to get their jobs.

Dave Johnson, director of marketing for the parks, said that since January Golfland executives have used a federal database to check the immigration status of newly hired workers as required by the state law. "Those who could not be confirmed as legal, they were terminated," Johnson said. Golfland Sunsplash, Waterworld Safari and a third water park in the area employ a total of 1,100 people, Johnson said. [New York Times 6/12/08]


On June 11 and 12, ICE agents from the Rhode Island Fugitive Operations Team arrested 42 immigrants from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico in the areas of Newport and Middletown, Rhode Island. Half of those arrested--21 people–were identified by ICE as immigration "fugitives" (people who had failed to comply with prior deportation orders). Another 12 were described as people who had reentered the US after being previously removed, while nine merely lacked authorization to be in the US.

According to an ICE news release, those who had reentered after being removed or had failed to comply with removal orders are "subject to immediate removal," while those who had not previously been ordered removed have been charged with immigration violations and placed into removal proceedings. They will be detained at various state and county facilities where ICE has contracts for immigration detention. ICE was assisted in the operation by Rhode Island State Police, Middletown Police Department, US Marshals Service, Bristol County (Massachusetts) Sheriff's Office, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. [ICE News Release 6/12/08]


Contributions toward Immigration News Briefs are gladly accepted: they should be made payable and sent to Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012. (Tax-deductible contributions of $50 or more may be made payable to the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute and earmarked for "NSN".)

ORDER "The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers," a new book by the editors of Immigration News Briefs and Weekly News Update on the Americas, out now on Monthly Review Press: for details see publisher website:
book website:
authors' blog:
or email the authors at

Friday, June 6, 2008

INB 6/6/08: ICE Raids Bakery; 1,800 Arrested in "Fugitive" Sweeps

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 12 - June 6, 2008

1. San Diego: ICE Raids Bakery, Campus
2. Florida: Raid at Jail Construction Site
3. 1,800 Arrested in "Fugitive" Sweeps

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; INB is also distributed free via email; contact to subscribe or unsubscribe. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is posted at


On May 15, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 18 workers on immigration violations in a raid on the French Gourmet, a popular bistro, bakery and catering company in San Diego's oceanfront Pacific Beach neighborhood. Agents executed a criminal search warrant at the restaurant and remained there for about six hours collecting company documents, said ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack. Agents took files and computers from the site. No one from company management was arrested. ICE said the search warrant is under seal because the investigation is ongoing. [AP 5/15/08; XETV FOX6 News (San Diego) 5/16/08]

"They closed the streets. There were cops and guns and badges and everything all over the place," said Rod Coon, vice president of the French Gourmet. According to French Gourmet officials, the agents turned around security cameras, presumably so their actions wouldn't be filmed. [XETV FOX6 News 5/16/08]

ICE agents searched workers in a delivery area behind the restaurant before taking them to a different location for questioning. ICE released three women on "humanitarian grounds" to care for their children, and detained 15 men at an immigration detention facility in San Diego. ICE said all 18 arrested workers are Mexican nationals suspected of being in the US without legal status. The raid was the first at the 29-year-old company, according to French Gourmet marketing manager Jodi Breslow. She said she believed the company may have come under scrutiny because it caters events on military bases in San Diego. Breslow said the company had collected federal employment eligibility verification forms and photo identification with each worker's job application. Those documents were provided to immigration officials, she said. [AP 5/15/08]

Among the 18 workers arrested were several who had been employed at the French Gourmet for 16 years. [XETV FOX6 News 5/16/08]

ICE apparently followed up the raid at the French Gourmet that same morning with visits to the homes of employees who were not present at the restaurant at the time and whose addresses ICE had obtained. In one such incident, ICE agents invaded the home of French Gourmet employee Jorge Narvaez, a pre-law student who lives with his wife and young child at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Mesa Graduate Housing complex. Narvaez, a US legal permanent resident born in Mexico whose mother was deported within the last year, said he was at home around 10am when half a dozen ICE agents sporting firearms and bullet-proof vests showed up asking about another French Gourmet employee whom they believed had fled there. After he told the agents that the other person was not there, "They asked me what's my legal status," said Narvaez. "I don't know if they had a warrant or not, but I let them in because I didn't have anything to hide," Narvaez said. "I went outside and they looked through all my stuff." [Socialist Worker 5/26/08; San Diego Union-Tribune 5/23/08; UCSD Guardian 5/27/08]

ICE later said its agents had made a mistake by entering UCSD student housing to search an apartment without first notifying campus police in accordance with agency policy. Mack, the ICE spokesperson, claimed the agents didn't realize they were in student housing until after the raid. "Had they been aware that morning, we would have provided a courtesy notification by contacting the campus police," Mack said. "We are conducting an internal review of the situation to clear up any confusion as to how that happened, and to make sure it doesn't happen again." Narvaez said the agents should have been aware of where they were; "There are signs in front that say this is university housing," he said.

UCSD officials learned of the incident as news spread from student to student and eventually to faculty, said Grecia Lima, a senior who helped organize a May 22 forum on campus to discuss stepped-up immigration enforcement. Earlier that week, UCSD campus police spoke with ICE officials about the incident and to "revisit the importance of advising campus police when agents become involved in contacting students on campus," Stacie Spector, associate vice chancellor for university communications, said in a written statement. [San Diego Union-Tribune 5/23/08]


On May 15, ICE special agents arrested 25 immigrants from Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Peru who were working on a construction project expanding the county jail for the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Fort Myers, Florida. The ICE agents raided the site in response to a tip from the sheriff's office. The workers, 22 men and three women, were all placed into removal proceedings; 17 of them had already been deported as of June 5. [ICE News Release 5/15/08; Naples Daily News 6/5/08]

Deputy county attorney Andrea Fraser said on June 5 that she believes the contractor, Kraft Construction, complied with all federal requirements and with all contract requirements. Lee County officials say Kraft has adequately explained the situation and will be allowed to finish the jail. Kraft officials said immediately after the arrests that only one of the workers was a company employee, and that person was authorized to work. Kraft and subcontractor Spectrum Contracting both hired a public relations firm right after the raid and have said little else. ICE investigators are still looking into whether Kraft or Spectrum knowingly hired unauthorized workers. Fraser said Kraft CEO Farahd "Fred" Pezeshkan owns part of Spectrum; in the future any construction manager hired by the county will have to disclose such relationships up front. [Naples Daily News 6/5/08]


On June 2, ICE announced that its eight fugitive operations teams in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area had arrested a total of 491 immigrants during a month-long operation in May. Out of the total 491 people arrested, 347 were what the agency calls fugitive aliens--people who have failed to comply with (and sometimes are unaware of) prior deportation orders, or who have been reentered the US after having been deported. ICE said 207 of these 347 "fugitives" also had criminal records. ICE officers arrested 76 other immigrants with criminal records and 68 other people the agency described as "immigration violators" (people present in the US without permission from the federal government).

In the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, ICE worked closely with federal, state and local agencies including the US Marshals Eastern District Regional Fugitive Task Force, New York State Police, Suffolk County Sheriff's Office and Suffolk County Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Secret Service. [ICE News Release 6/2/08]

A similar sweep began on May 5 in California, involving ICE fugitive operations teams based in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. In that three-week operation, ICE arrested 905 people, including 495 people who were on a target list of just over 1,500 "fugitives" ICE was seeking to arrest. The other 410 people arrested included some who had reentered the US after being deported, and others who were simply living in the US without permission. [New York Times 5/24/08]

In northern California, the ICE fugitive teams arrested 17 immigrants in the Canal area of San Rafael, in Marin County, in raids that began early on May 22. ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said enforcement teams removed 16 men and one woman. The San Rafael Police Department did not participate in any of the arrests, said police spokesperson Margo Rohrbacher. She said the department was notified at 5 am that ICE agents would be attempting to serve federal deportation warrants in several areas of the city.

The raids in San Rafael began just two days after San Pedro Elementary School principal Kathryn Gibney testified at a congressional hearing on the continuing emotional and social trauma among her students caused by ICE raids carried out in the same area in March 2007, when 65 Canal residents were arrested over three days [see INB 3/18/07]. Gibney told the Workforce Protections Subcommittee that she is still seeing rising absenteeism and falling test scores as a result of last year's raids. [Marin Independent-Journal 5/22/08]

In a four-day operation in Texas beginning May 18, agents from five ICE fugitive operations teams based in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio arrested 84 immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin. Those arrested were from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Kenya, Guatemala and Honduras; 56 of them had been issued final orders of deportation, while 28 were simply present in the US without permission. [ICE News Release 5/23/08]

In a four-day operation May 6-9, ICE agents arrested 89 immigrants in a sweep targeting people who had failed to comply with deportation orders in the Houston Field Office's area of responsibility, which extends across over 52 counties from Louisiana to Corpus Christi, Texas. A dozen "fugitive operations" teams with 60 agents from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso, carried out the operation. Of the 89 people arrested, 28 had criminal convictions. It was not clear how many of those arrested had prior deportation orders, and how many were picked up for simply lacking immigration status. ICE had hoped to arrest "hundreds" of people with prior deportation orders, whom the agency refers to as fugitives. "Well, we always hope for more, but we don't always get everybody we're looking for," said Kenneth Landgrebe, the ICE Field Office director for Detention and Removal in Houston. [Houston Chronicle 5/11/08]

In eastern Tennessee, ICE arrested 48 of the 280 "fugitives" it was seeking in sweeps over the weekend of May 17-18. Agents from fugitive operation teams based in New Orleans (Louisiana), Memphis (Tennessee), Atlanta (Georgia) and Charlotte (North Carolina) arrested 22 people in Chattanooga; the others were arrested in Knoxville and surrounding rural counties. [Chattanooga Times Free Press 5/22/08]

The sweeps were part of a six-state enforcement effort in which ICE fugitive operations teams arrested 1,808 immigrants--1,069 of them "fugitives"--in California, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee. [ICE News Release 6/2/08]

Over the week ending May 16, agents from ICE's fugitive operations team in Phoenix, Arizona, worked with partners from the US Marshal's Service and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to arrest 39 immigrants in the Phoenix area. Of the total, 21 were "fugitives"; seven had "criminal histories." [ICE News Release 5/16/08]

ICE also carried out home raids looking for "fugitives" in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, May 28-30. Agents arrested at least two people, both of whom had prior removal orders. [Reno Gazette-Journal 5/31/08]


Contributions toward Immigration News Briefs are gladly accepted: they should be made payable and sent to Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012. (Tax-deductible contributions of $50 or more may be made payable to the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute and earmarked for "NSN".)

ORDER "The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers," a new book by the editors of Immigration News Briefs and Weekly News Update on the Americas, out now on Monthly Review Press: for details see publisher website:
book website:
authors' blog:
or email the authors at

Monday, June 2, 2008

INB 6/2/08: Massive Raid at Kosher Meat Plant in Iowa

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 11 - June 2, 2008

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; INB is also distributed free via email; contact to subscribe or unsubscribe. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is posted at

Special Issue: Massive Raid at Kosher Meat Plant in Iowa

On May 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out its largest ever mass arrest at a single worksite, seizing 389 of the 970 employees at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. ICE took the workers, most of them Guatemalan, to the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, Iowa for processing. [AP 5/16/08]

A Raid Forewarned

Activists and residents in the Waterloo area had begun to fear an imminent immigration raid as early as May 4, when the Waterloo Courier quoted National Cattle Congress (NCC) general manager Doug Miller as confirming that the federal government was leasing the privately-owned fairgrounds through May 25 under an agreement approved by the NCC board. The Courier noted that contractors had installed massive generators adjacent to many buildings on the fairgrounds; that windows of many of the buildings were covered up; and that a number of large mobile home-size trailers had been transported to the grounds. [Waterloo Courier 5/4/08]

The Des Moines Register picked up the story on May 6, reporting that Miller wouldn't let the Register see a copy of NCC's rental contract with the US General Services Administration, and that he said he didn't know what the government planned to do with the fairgrounds. "ICE never talks about our investigative activity or possible future enforcement actions," the paper quoted ICE spokesperson Tim Counts as saying. "Regarding the exercise in Waterloo, there is currently no publicly releasable information about that, so we aren't releasing any," Counts told the Register. [Des Moines Register 5/6/08]

Anticipating that the fairgrounds were being prepared for use as a detention center following a mass raid, activists organized a "know your rights" meeting at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Waterloo on May 11, following the church's Spanish-language noon mass. The activists handed out information about what people should do when confronted by law enforcement agents, and provided contact information for immigration attorneys in Iowa. Activists also held a strategy session to talk about how to respond in case of a raid. [DMR 5/11/08]

The Arrests

The raid took place the next day, not in Waterloo but a 77-mile drive northeast in the tiny community of Postville, which has a population of about 2,300. The operation, the result of a 16-month investigation, began with helicopters, buses and vans encircling the western edge of Postville at 10 am. Witnesses said hundreds of agents surrounded the Agriprocessors plant in 10 minutes, began interviewing workers and seized company records. After an announcement over the plant's loudspeaker said ICE agents were in the plant, many of the workers tried to hide or run. Some workers who were in the plant at the time of the raid managed to evade authorities. [DMR 5/14/08; Washington Post 5/18/08]

According to an ICE press release, the agency executed a criminal search warrant at the factory for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, as well as a civil search warrant for people present in the US without permission. The operation was led by US Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa Matt Dummermuth and ICE Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold, and carried out with assistance from the US Marshals Service, US Postal Inspections Service, Iowa Department of Public Safety, Iowa Department of Transportation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Protective Service, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, US Department of Labor, Public Health Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Environmental Protection Agency, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Drug Enforcement Administration, Waterloo Police Department and Postville Police Department. [ICE News Release 5/12/08]

Those arrested included 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, four Ukrainians and two Israelis, according to the US attorney's office for the Northern District of Iowa. Of the total 389 people arrested, 76 were adult women and 18 were children ranging in age from 13 to 17. The children were turned over to adult guardians or to the US Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the care of unaccompanied minors found to be present in the US without valid immigration status. Of the adults, 306 were charged with aggravated identity theft and other crimes related to the use of false documents. [WP 5/18/08; DMR 5/17/08]

As of May 14, 56 of the workers--mostly women with young children--had been released under ICE supervision for humanitarian reasons. Most of them were required to wear an electronic monitoring device around one ankle. [DMR 5/14/08] One worker who was detained with the others on May 12 but was released the same day for medical reasons said that three weeks before the raid a supervisor at the plant told her to "change her papers" to make them look more realistic. The woman asked not to be identified because she feared retaliation from ICE. [DMR 5/14/08 (separate article from above)]

A Community in Fear

Bob Teig, spokesperson for the US attorney's office in Iowa's northern district, noted on May 15 that the raid included 697 arrest warrants and said the investigation was "ongoing." [AP 5/16/08; Chicago Tribune 5/18/08] Worry of more raids on homes led as many as 200 Postville residents, including entire families, to seek shelter at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in the days following the operation at Agriprocessors. The church provided food, a place to sleep, and a way for parents and their children to continue a daily routine. Sister Mary McCauley said, "I heard today that even some of the children, the small children at the Postville school, made a petition, and it said 'Do not take our families away.' And that's how we feel." [KCRG News (Cedar Rapids) 5/15/08]

Half of the Postville school system's 600 students were absent on May 13, including 90% of the Latino children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding. Postville Community Schools superintendent David Strudthoff said the sudden incarceration of more than 10% of the town's population "is like a natural disaster--only this one is manmade." [WP 5/18/08]

Gustavo Lopez, Guatemala's consul general in Chicago, arrived at St. Bridget's late on May 15 after spending two days in Waterloo meeting with Guatemalan detainees to make sure they were being treated humanely. Lopez said ICE field director Scott Baniecke in Minneapolis assured him there would be no more raids in Postville in the immediate future. [The Gazette (Cedar Rapids) 5/15/08]

"In several instances children went as long as 72 hours without seeing their mother or father, not knowing where they were," said Bishop Steven Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Families have been torn, some have been taken to Waterloo while the remaining spouse is left behind with an electronic monitoring device on their ankle." Ullestad said religious leaders will work with Postville residents to help them recover spiritually from the raid's impact. "The recovery of an entire town being violated in this way will take years. Even if they find another 390 workers tomorrow, the town will be in a process of recovery not unlike post-traumatic stress syndrome." [The Gazette 5/17/08]

Criminal Convictions

After meeting with defense lawyers appointed by the court, 297 of the 389 arrested Agriprocessors workers quickly accepted guilty pleas on criminal charges including use of false identification documents to obtain employment, false use of a Social Security number or cards and unlawful re-entry into the US. Over four days from May 20 through 23, in an emergency court setup approved by chief judge Linda R. Reade, the workers were brought in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled, to makeshift courtrooms set up in trailers and in a modified dance hall at the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds.

In what US attorney Matt Dummermuth called an "astonishing success," 270 of the workers were sentenced to five months in prison each; another 27 received probation. It appeared that those receiving prison time were mainly charged with using real Social Security numbers that belonged to other people, while those receiving probation had primarily used invented Social Security numbers that did not belong to anyone. Most of the workers agreed to immediate deportation following completion of their sentences. The workers are also required to cooperate with any ongoing federal investigation of Agriprocessors.

The workers accepted the five-month sentences because prosecutors threatened to try anyone who didn't accept the plea deals on felony identity theft charges that carry a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. In an interview, Judge Reade said prosecutors "have tried to be fair in their charging" and had organized the immigrants' detention to make it easy for their lawyers to meet with them. [New York Times 5/24/08; DMR 5/19/08; AP 6/1/08]

Five workers did not enter pleas to criminal charges; their cases are pending in US District Court in Cedar Rapids. About 60 workers were released for humanitarian reasons and do not face criminal charges, while 20 others are detained on civil immigration violations and face deportation proceedings, said Teig, the US attorney's office spokesperson. [AP 6/1/08]

Defense lawyer David Nadler said the plea agreements were the best deal available for his clients. But Nadler was dismayed that prosecutors had denied probation and had insisted that the workers serve jail time and that they agree to a rarely used judicial order for immediate deportation upon their release, signing away their rights to go to immigration court. "That's not the defense of justice," Nadler said. "That's just politics." [NYT 5/24/08]

Company Implicated

As of June 1, not one company official faced any charges. [AP 6/1/08] Officials with ICE and the US attorney's office have declined to comment on whether a grand jury has been convened. Ron Wahls, a guidance counselor in the Postville school district who has connections to the plant, told the Des Moines Register he had been summoned to appear before a grand jury. [DMR 5/31/08]

According to a 57-page federal affidavit filed by ICE senior special agent David M. Hoagland in support of the criminal search warrant issued for the May 12 raid on Agriprocessors, 76% of the 968 employees on the company's payroll over the last three months of 2007 used false or suspect Social Security numbers. According to the affidavit, undercover sources who were wearing recording devices said supervisors instructed employees to "fix" their Social Security numbers. The affidavit cited unnamed sources who alleged that some company supervisors employed 15-year-olds, helped cash checks for workers with fake documents, and pressured workers without documents to purchase vehicles and register them in other names. In addition, the affidavit alleged that company supervisors ignored a report of a methamphetamine drug lab operating in the plant. It also cited a case in which a supervisor blindfolded a Guatemalan worker and allegedly struck him with a meat hook, without serious injury. [WP 5/18/08; Chicago Tribune 5/18/08; The Gazette 5/15/08]

On May 15, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, charging federal authorities with violating the Agriprocessors workers' Fifth Amendment rights to due process by exposing them to "prolonged and indefinite detention," hindering their access to attorneys. The Peck Law Firm and Dornan & Lustgarten firm in Omaha, Nebraska filed the lawsuit on behalf of an estimated 147 detained immigrant workers. The suit alleged that the detained workers hadn't had adequate time for legal services and that moving them out of Iowa to various detention centers, as ICE had planned to do, would effectively destroy the ongoing relationship between detainees and their attorneys. The three named petitioners in the suit--Antonin Trinidad Candido, Roman Trinidad Candido and Maria del Refugio Masias, all Agriprocessors employees who were detained in the raid--were subsequently released.

According to the suit, Polk County attorney Sonia Parras Konrad interviewed over 50 detainees who told her that Agriprocessors procured false identification for its immigrant employees; withheld money from their paychecks for "immigration fees"; didn't allow employees to use the restroom during 10-hour shifts; didn't compensate employees for overtime; and were physically abused by supervisors. The lawsuit argues that the workers, as victims of these alleged crimes, would be eligible for special visas, and that if they are transferred from Iowa they would be deprived of their rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act. "As victims they would need to participate in the investigations of the alleged crimes and may be needed to testify as to personal experiences," the lawsuit said. It also claimed that some of the detained workers could be eligible for immigration relief because they have spouses and children who are US citizens.

The suit named as defendants ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, along with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE Julie Myers, ICE Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold and US Attorney General Michael Mukasey. [Chicago Tribune 5/18/08; AP 5/16/08, 5/17/08; The Gazette 5/15/08]

Late on May 16, the day after the suit was filed, an agreement was reached between the two sides to allow the 83 arrested workers who were not criminally charged to remain in Iowa at least until their administrative bond hearings are held. That could take six months or more, the attorneys said. [AP 5/17/08]

Tim Junker, a US marshal for Iowa's northern judicial district, said on May 21 that the immigrants who pleaded guilty to criminal charges will serve most of their five-month prison sentences outside of Iowa. The workers will be held in Iowa jails for anywhere from two weeks to two months before the federal penal system assigns them to other locations. There are no federal prisons in Iowa. [DMR 5/22/08]

Union Drive, Investigations Thwarted?

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has been trying to organize the Postville plant and had sought to prevent a raid there. In a May 2 letter to ICE officials, UFCW international vice president Mark Lauritsen notified the agency of an ongoing labor dispute at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, and said he was concerned that any potential ICE action could have a "chilling effect" on the existing work force, which had reported workplace violations in the past. In addition, ICE action could result in employees leaving the plant, thus interfering with a government investigation that would "ultimately uncover unscrupulous employer acts," he said. "With these labor disputes in progress, we urge you to suspend any potentially existing enforcement efforts and refuse to be involved in this labor dispute in accordance with the internal guidance, 'Questioning Persons During Labor Disputes,'" Lauritsen wrote.

Union leaders had earlier alerted state and federal labor officials to allegations Agriprocessors was exploiting underage workers and paying them off the books, UFCW spokesperson Jill Cashen said on May 12 in Washington DC. Now that hundreds of Agriprocessors employees have been detained, "how can justice ever be served on these exploitation issues?" Cashen asked.

Iowa Labor Commissioner Dave Neil confirmed that a state investigation of possible labor law violations at the Agriprocessors plant was under way. The probe involved alleged violations of wage and child labor laws, he said. "I can't really get into the specifics," he said. [DMR 5/13/08]

ICE may be "deporting 390 witnesses" to the labor investigation, said Lauritsen, the UFCW official. "This employer has a long history of violating every law that's out there--labor laws, environmental laws, now immigration laws," Lauritsen added. In April, the company lost a federal appellate court battle over whether it could ignore a unionization vote by workers at its distribution center in Brooklyn, New York, on grounds that those who favored the union were out-of-status immigrants not entitled to federal labor protections.

In 2006, the Jewish newspaper Forward revealed allegations that Agriprocessors workers were underpaid and exploited. That same year, Agriprocessors paid a $600,000 settlement to the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve wastewater pollution problems. In 2004, the US Agriculture Department's inspector general accused the company of "acts of inhumane slaughter" after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animals rights group, publicized an unauthorized video of a stumbling, dying cow. [WP 5/18/08; Jerusalem Post 5/16/08]

In March of this year, following inspections of the Postville plant in October 2007 and February 2008, the Iowa Division of Labor Services announced that Agriprocessors would be subject to a fine of $182,000 for 39 violations of workplace safety rules. Many of the alleged violations related to hazardous chemicals, blood-borne pathogens and what the state called "serious health violations." Yet eight days after the fines were announced, state labor officials signed an agreement with company officials to reduce the fines stemming from 26 of the violations found during the October 2007 inspection. A week later, in April, state officials and the company agreed to reduce the fines tied to 13 violations found during the February 2008 inspection. The agreements, in which the company agreed to correct some of the violations, reduced the total amount of the fines from $182,000 to $42,750. [DMR 5/31/08; AP 6/1/08]

Safety Problems Persist

Agriprocessors is the largest employer in northeast Iowa and the Postville plant is the nation's largest kosher meatpacking facility. The company, established in 1987 by Brooklyn, New York butcher Aaron Rubashkin, produces about 60% of the kosher meat and 40% of the kosher poultry in the US market. It produces kosher and non-kosher meat and poultry products under brands such as Iowa Best Beef, Aaron's Best and Rubashkin's. The company said in a May 23 statement that it was seeking a new chief executive for the Postville operation to replace the owner's son, Sholom Rubashkin. [WP 5/18/08; AP 6/1/08; Jerusalem Post 5/16/08, 5/28/08]

The company lost nearly half of the Postville plant's workforce in the May 12 ICE raid. The plant was closed on the day of the raid but resumed operation the next day at a reduced level. [AP 6/1/08] As of May 16, company spokesperson Chaim Abrahams said Agriprocessors has been hiring more workers but was not at full capacity. He also said the company is improving its hiring procedures to ensure that workers are legal residents. "We have signed up for a government electronic verification program, and are working with our consultants," he said. [AP 5/16/08]

Agriprocessors also brought in Labor Ready, a Waterloo company that provides nonskilled workers on contract. But 10 days into a contract, in the middle of the week that started May 26, Labor Ready pulled its estimated 150 workers out of the Postville plant because of safety concerns, according to Stacey Burke of Labor Ready's parent company, TrueBlue. "There was a concern on the part of my field operators about the safety and care afforded to our workers," Burke said. "We felt as if there was a violation on our core principles." Burke declined to specify what safety violations the field operators observed but said that Labor Ready does not have a "one strike and you're out" violation policy for worksites. [DMR 5/31/08]


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