- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic membership organization yesterday condemned as “unnecessary” the raids last weeks at Swift & Co. meat-packing plants in six states, saying further raids should be halted until Congress passes immigration reform legislation.

“We demand a halt to further immigration raids unless the government demonstrates that a particular arrest is necessary to protect public safety or for national security,” said Rosa Rosales, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“The manner in which the raids were conducted has caused psychological harm to the immigrants and their families,” said Ms. Rosales, adding that LULAC is working with the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations. “We must enforce our laws in a humane manner that balances our economic and security needs with our national values.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who swept through the six meat-processing plants last week arrested 1,282 illegal aliens as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive identity-theft conspiracy. The arrests culminated a 10-month ICE probe known as Operation Wagon Train that targeted workers at Swift 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.

Swift, which sought in an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the raids, has not been charged. The company, which employs 15,000 workers, argued that the raids would cause “substantial and irreparable injury” to its business.

Ms. Rosales said LULAC will challenge any violations of the workers’ constitutional rights in court and has joined with other national Hispanic organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Council of La Raza, in sending letters to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urging for a temporary halt on the raids.

She said there is concern that some Swift workers arrested in Minnesota were denied access to an attorney and noted that only 65 of those arrested had pending criminal charges.

She said Congress needs to overhaul immigration law in the first quarter of 2007 and create a process for immigrants to “strengthen our economy legally rather than forcing them to work in the shadows and terrorizing them with ineffective workplace raids.”

Meanwhile, a $23 million lawsuit by 18 former Swift employees accused the company of conspiring to keep down wages by hiring illegal workers. The former workers, all legal U.S. residents who worked at a Swift processing plant in Cactus, Texas, said they were the “victims in a long-standing scheme” by the company to “depress and artificially lower the wages of its workers.”

The suit seeks $23 million in exemplary damages and the back wages that would have received if the workers had remained employed. Filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Dallas, it accuses Swift of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to manipulate commerce.

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