- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who swept through meat-processing plants in six states early Tuesday arrested nearly 1,300 illegal aliens as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive identity-theft conspiracy.

The arrests culminated a 10-month ICE investigation known as “Operation Wagon Train” that targeted workers at Swift & Co. plants in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota. Those arrested included illegal aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan and Ethiopia.

“Operation Wagon Train is an outgrowth of ICE’s current work-site enforcement strategy, a comprehensive approach that focuses on how illegal aliens get to our country, the ways in which they obtain identity documents allowing them to become employed, and the employers who knowingly hire them,” Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, said yesterday at a press conference.

“The use of fraudulent documents by illegal aliens seeking employment has been a significant problem,” she said. “In recent years, however, this fraud has evolved into a disturbing new trend. Now, instead of obtaining fraudulent documents with fraudulent identities, illegal aliens are buying genuine documents” using identities of unwitting U.S. citizens.

Mrs. Myers said ICE investigators discovered in February that Swift workers had assumed the identities of others to circumvent employment-eligibility screening and uncovered evidence that hundreds of illegal aliens used stolen Social Security cards and other identity documents to gain employment.

The illegals, she said, obtained the documents from a variety of document rings and vendors. She described identity theft as the largest and fastest-growing crime in the U.S.

Swift, which sought in an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the raids, has not been charged. The company employs 15,000 workers, is the nation’s third-largest beef producer and argued that the raids would cause “substantial and irreparable injury” to its business. The suit was filed after ICE informed Swift that the agency intended to remove illegal aliens on Dec. 4.

The company, with $9 billion in sales last year, told the court that interviews it conducted with “suspect workers” prior to the raids found that between 90 percent and 95 percent were either not who their identification documents said or were not legally eligible for employment. It said 400 were terminated, quit or failed to show up.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who attended the press conference, said “illegal documents are not only used by illegal migrants, but they are used by terrorists who want to get on airplanes or criminals who want to prey on our citizens.”

Of the 1,282 workers arrested on administrative immigration violations, 65 also were charged with identity theft-related charges or other criminal violations, including illegally re-entering the U.S. after having been deported. They are being processed at locations around the country for removal proceedings.

Those charged with federal criminal violations will be remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending their criminal court proceedings before a federal judge.

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