Union rep arrested in Swift immigration sweeps

On July 10, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 25 current or former employees of the Swift & Company meat processing firm. Twenty of those arrested were sought on federal and state warrants; most were picked up on the job, while others were detained in their homes. ICE arrested 18 workers on criminal charges relating to identity theft and administrative immigration violations in six locations where Swift plants are located: Marshalltown, Iowa; Grand Island, Nebraska; Worthington, Minnesota; Greeley, Colorado; Hyrum, Utah; and Cactus, Texas. In Marshalltown, ICE also arrested Braulio Pereyra-Gabino, an official of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who represents Swift employees, on criminal charges for “harboring illegal aliens”; and Christopher Todd Lamb, assistant director of human resources at the Marshalltown plant and a 17-year Swift employee, on a harboring charge as well as misprision of a felony. (ICE news release, July 11; DesMoines Register, July 13, 22; The Militant, Aug. 6)

In addition, two Swift supervisors who were not named on the warrants were arrested in Greeley. One was picked up by ICE at the Greeley Swift plant for immigration violations. The other was arrested by the Greeley Police Department for an outstanding arrest warrant involving traffic violations. Another three people who were not sought in the warrants were arrested after apparently being discovered during the raids. “Swift is to be commended not only for its cooperation during yesterday’s enforcement action, but for its continuing efforts to improve its hiring practices in order to ensure a legal workforce,” ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers said July 11.

The enforcement operation was assisted by the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, four US Attorney’s Offices and two District Attorney’s Offices. (ICE news release, July 11) ICE spokesperson Tim Counts called the raids a “continuation of the same investigation” that resulted in the arrests last Dec. 12 of 1,297 workers at six Swift facilities on administrative immigration violations. According to ICE, 274 of those arrested in December have since been criminally charged for identity theft or use of fraudulent documents. (ICE news release, July 11; The Militant, Aug. 6) ICE officials said 649 of the 1,297 Swift workers detained last December have already been removed from the country. (DMR, July 13)

In a statement about the latest raids, the UFCW said this time ICE agents did not appear to use the “same level of intimidation and overkill” they used during the raids last December. The UFCW “supports law enforcement efforts that abide by the law and respect the rights of workers,” the union said. [AP 7/10/07] Dan Hoppes, president of the UFCW local at the plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, said the July 10 raid there “was done the right way this time. Not like the last time….” (The Militant, Aug. 6)

The preliminary hearing for Lamb, the human resources manager, is set for July 23. According to the Des Moines Register, Lamb is accused of coaching a worker on how to avoid detection and to apply for a job using a false name and documents. Evidence for the charges came from conversations between Lamb and Alejandro Vasquez-Avina, a Swift worker who collaborated with ICE after being picked up in the December raid. ICE monitored conversations between Lamb and Vasquez via a concealed microphone worn by Vasquez. Later, Vasquez applied for a job at the Swift plant with an ICE-provided valid Social Security card and a Texas birth certificate in the name of Anthony Gomez. He was rehired. (DMR, July 13; The Militant, Aug. 6)

Kirk Martin, migration and refugee services director for Catholic Charities in Des Moines, said the latest raids show ICE plays on people’s fears and lack of knowledge of their rights to enforce a broken immigration system.”If ICE can’t do its job without relying on snitches, there’s no better proof that there is a need for a different, forward-looking and just immigration system,” said Martin. (DMR, July 13)

Union officials and worker advocates are especially troubled by the federal grand jury indictment against Pereyra, vice president of UFCW Local 1149, for allegedly harboring undocumented immigrants. “Nobody on our payroll has ever been arrested previously” in this type of case, said UFCW spokesperson Jill Cashen. “This is a criminal case, not an administrative legal problem, so we’re concerned.” Typically, union representatives do not recruit, hire or fire workers, which makes the charges puzzling, immigration experts said. Details of the case against Pereyra-Gabino are in a sealed court file. Regional immigration officials and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa declined to elaborate on the harboring charge against him, or the policy under which he is being prosecuted. (DMR, July 22)

From Immigration News Briefs, July 21

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown and the Swift raids.