Federal authorities Thursday announced the arrest of 13 people they say were ringleaders in a massive scheme to exploit illegal immigrants as cheap labor on farms and Hispanic-oriented businesses in Minnesota and Nebraska.
They also carried out search warrants on 11 of the businesses Wednesday and nabbed 133 illegal immigrant workers they found at the time.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they suspect some of the migrants were coerced into working in rough conditions, either by force or threats of being reported to authorities for deportation. The migrants were forced to cash their paychecks at a remittance business run by the scammers, and had taxes taken from their paychecks, even though the businesses didn’t actually send the money to the IRS, officials said.
“These targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors,” said Tracy J. Cormier, special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Some 17 people were identified as the ringleaders, and 13 of them were arrested Wednesday.
The government said some of 133 illegal immigrants nabbed will be held in detention but others will be released with a future court date, on the hope they return to be deported when their case is finished.
ICE set up a phone line for relatives of the illegal immigrant workers arrested to call to find out their status.