- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents armed with civil search warrants raided Swift & Co. meat processing plants in six states yesterday in a massive crackdown on an identity theft scheme that has victimized large numbers of U.S. citizens and lawful residents.

Hundreds of suspected illegal aliens are believed to have been taken into custody, although ICE officials said because agents were still in the process of apprehending illegal workers, an arrest total would not be available until today.

“The company was not charged in today’s action,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “Today’s action is against the individuals who have stolen identities of U.S. citizens and who are here working illegally.”

ICE agents executed the court-authorized warrants at Swift’s processing plants in Greeley, Colo.; Grand Island, Neb.; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn. The warrants allowed ICE agents to search for and apprehend any illegal alien workers encountered.

Swift, the third-largest U.S. beef producer in the United States, suspended operations at the six facilities while federal law-enforcement authorities made arrests and checked documents. The plants, which represent all of the company’s domestic beef processing capacity and 77 percent of its pork production, are expected to return to full operation tomorrow.

“Swift has never condoned the employment of unauthorized workers, nor have we ever knowingly hired such individuals,” Chief Executive Officer Sam Rovit said, noting that the eligibility of all job applicants is checked through a federal database before they are hired.

Swift employs about 15,000 workers in the United States and processes about 16,000 head of cattle a day.

Evidence uncovered during the ICE investigation, which began in February, showed that large numbers of illegal aliens may have assumed the identities of U.S. citizens or lawful U.S. residents and improperly used their Social Security numbers to gain employment at the Swift plants.

ICE agents and the Federal Trade Commission have identified hundreds of potential victims, and evidence uncovered yesterday, according to ICE officials, showed “substantial” identity theft involving a crime syndicate that produced phony birth certificates, Social Security cards and other documents.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, applauded the raids, saying they sent “a clear message to businesses and employees across the nation that work-site enforcement and hiring only authorized workers is critical to our nation’s safety and security.”

“It is the duty of employers to ensure they are following the letter of the law and only employing people who have a legal right to be here,” Mr. Thompson said.

During the raid, the aliens were arrested on administrative immigration violations and, in some cases, existing criminal-arrest warrants. Additional criminal charges of aggravated identity theft and other violations may also be brought.

In April, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a nationwide immigration enforcement strategy that would aggressively target employers who “knowingly and recklessly” hire illegal aliens, and those who help them find jobs. He said the goal was to reverse the tolerance of illegal employment and illegal immigration in the United States.

To implement a work-site enforcement strategy, the department requested $41 million in funds and 200 more ICE agents for fiscal 2007.

Critics have said Homeland Security has done little interior enforcement since the department’s 2003 creation, despite existing laws that provide sanctions against employers who hire illegals aliens.

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