- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided poultry plants in five states yesterday, taking into custody more than 280 illegal immigrant suspects as part of a nationwide work-site enforcement crackdown.

In coordination with local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies, ICE targeted illegal immigrants employed at Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. poultry plants in Mount Pleasant, Texas; Batesville, Ark; Live Oak, Fla.; Moorefield, W.Va.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Pilgrim’s Pride, with headquarters in Pittsburg, Texas, is one of the largest chicken-processing companies in the nation. ICE officials said Pilgrim’s Pride officials cooperated with authorities in the raids.

A federal grand jury in Tyler, Texas, returned multiple-count indictments April 1 that remained under seal until yesterday’s operation. The indictments accuse each defendant of obtaining and using the Social Security numbers of others to obtain employment. If convicted, each could receive up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The Justice Department said it anticipates that a substantial number of those detained will be federally prosecuted.

During the investigation, ICE identified numerous identity-theft victims who suffered hardships as a result of the theft, including mistaken tax liens, denial of medical and social services benefits, and damage to their credit ratings.

“Criminal cases like these show how illegal immigration can leave behind a trail of victims,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “A significant percentage of identity theft is carried out by illegal aliens trying to avoid detection and gain employment.”

ICE spokeswoman Kadia H. Koroma said all of those arrested were photographed, fingerprinted and processed by ICE, and later interviewed by agents and health care professionals for information on health, caregiver or other humanitarian issues, and to identify any urgent medical needs.

For those arrested solely on immigration violations, Ms. Koroma said, that information will assist ICE in making decisions about whether to detain the person or permit a conditional humanitarian release. She said those prosecuted on criminal charges will be remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and housed at facilities near the arrest sites.

ICE is coordinating with social service agencies and nongovernmental organizations in all five states to ensure accurate information is available for family members of those arrested. ICE also has established a toll-free number (866/341-3858) for family members to obtain information about a relative’s status.

“We will continue to protect the integrity of the foreign labor certification process by dedicating resources to investigate the use of both identity theft and false documentation to facilitate the entry of undocumented workers,” said Labor Department Inspector General Gordon Heddell.

In July 2005, ICE agents raided a Petit Jean Inc. poultry plant in Arkadelphia, Ark., and arrested 119 people suspected of being illegal immigrants.

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