- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2007

DENVER — The union, representing employees of six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants where a massive illegal alien raid was conducted last year, is seeking an injunction to stop federal immigration agencies from carrying out what it described as “mass detentions” and unlawful workplace raids.

In a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday, eight plaintiffs, all working legally in the United States, claim their rights were violated when they were forced to remain on the company premises without access to legal counsel.

“It is unconscionable that our government would round up hundreds, sometimes thousands, of innocent workers in an effort to target a few select individuals,” said Joseph T. Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International.

The lawsuit names Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers and their agencies.

Tim Counts, a spokesman for ICE, said the agency would fight the lawsuit “vigorously,” insisting that agents fully complied with the law during the Dec. 12 raids.

“We had federal search warrants, and the fact is that federal search warrants give us the authority to search the premises and question all employees on the premises,” he said. “Everyone was treated fairly and respectfully, but this was a large-scale law-enforcement action.”

More than 12,000 employees were interviewed at the six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants, a process that lasted most of the day. Agents arrested 1,297 illegal aliens, and later charged 274 with criminal violations, mainly identity theft.

The plants were located in Cactus, Texas; Greeley, Colo.; Grand Island, Neb.; Worthington, Minn.; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Hyrum, Utah. The union represents workers at all the plants except the one in Utah.

The lawsuit claims that the workers were denied access to water, bathrooms and telephones while being detained. Some employees were handcuffed when they couldn’t produce their identification immediately.

Mr. Counts, who was present at the Minnesota raid, said employees had access to water fountains and bathrooms. They were allowed to use their cell phones or office phones, and in some cases, agents lent them their cell phones.

“We asked each and every individual if there were humanitarian issues — child care, elderly parents — and we released conditionally dozens of people and scheduled them later for hearings,” Mr. Counts said.

Employees also were asked to divide themselves into two groups, legal employees and undocumented workers, although the honor system didn’t always work.

“Many people who claimed to be legal residents were in fact illegal aliens,” he said. “Our agents get lied to every day.”

Union spokeswoman Jill Cashen said the treatment was rougher than how Mr. Counts described it.

Agents hassled employees for failing to report promptly to the cafeteria and leaving their identification at home, she said, even though the nature of their work made it difficult for them to carry wallets.

One plaintiff, Sergio Rodriguez of Greeley, Colo., told agents he was a legal resident, but agents refused to allow him to call his wife for his green card. He was taken to jail in Denver before being released.

“You can’t just come in to a work site, lock the door and assume everyone is a criminal,” Miss Cashen said. “You have to do the police work, do the research, then come in and say, ‘I need to speak with these 10 employees.’ ”

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