Immigration agents raid packing plants
We are not criminals! say workers
at Swift factories; No deportations!
Workers, relatives, and supporters rally December 12 outside Swift meat processing plant in Greeley, Colorado, one of six factories raided that day by immigration cops.
BY HELEN MEYERS
MARSHALLTOWN, IowaAn immigration raid at the Swift meatpacking plant here, one of six targeted by federal cops across the country, was met by angry protesters at the plant entrance. Some held signs reading We are not criminals and No to Deportations.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police descended on the Swift plant here December 12, arresting at least 90 workers. Simultaneous raids were carried out at five other company facilitiesin Greeley, Colorado; Worthington, Minnesota; Grand Island, Nebraska; Cactus, Texas; and Hyrum, Utah. The cops arrested a total of 1,282 workers; some have already been deported. Five of the targeted plants are organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW).
As this reporter arrived at the Marshalltown plant, which is organized by UFCW Local 1149, five Homeland Security buses with blacked-out windows were parked at the entrance. Hundreds of people, including relatives and friends of Swift workers, lined the street as the immigration cops put handcuffed workers onto the buses.
As the buses drove off, people chanted in Spanish, Estamos con ustedes (We are with you) and Sí se puede! (Yes, we can), a common slogan of demonstrations for the legalization of immigrants.
The mood of those in the crowd was a mixture of anger at the arrests and worry about the fate of their loved ones. ICE agents arrested both meat packers and cafeteria workers.
Mary Lopez, a former Swift worker, was waiting for her daughter, who works at the plant. As she watched workers being herded into the buses, she said, Who gives them the right to treat workers without papers different than those of us born in this country?
ICE officials told the media the raids, conducted by 1,000 agents, were the culmination of a 10-month investigation of a large identity theft scheme that has victimized large numbers of U.S. citizens and lawful residents. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said in a December 13 press conference that the alleged trafficking of false or stolen documents was a national security issue because they could be used by terrorists.
ICE said some workers would face criminal charges. So far the company has not been charged. Swift officials said they knew the raids were imminent.
Diana Newberry, who works on the loin line at the Marshalltown plant, described what happened there. At about 7:45 a.m. word began to spread that immigration cops were in the plant, she said. In response, workers began to run in the hope of getting out of the plant, but the immigration cops already had the plant surrounded and every exit guarded. The cops, armed and wearing Police ICE insignia on their jackets, forced us down to the cafeteria.
We were then interrogated by about 30 cops. Several coworkers were handcuffed before being interrogated, others after. Coworkers helped handcuffed workers by holding up cell phones to their ears so they could call family members.
For about five hours no workers were allowed to leave the plant. Around 1:00 p.m. the bosses tried to order us back to work, Newberry said. But workers refused to work without getting something to eat. The company tried to start back up the kill floor and other departments, but there werent enough of us, so the company sent the first shift home.
Several workers complained about being roughed up by police. One, who was pushed up against a wall, told the ICE agent to get his hands off him. Another worker pulled down her collar to show a reporter a bruise on her shoulder from being struck by a cop.
Newberry said the majority of U.S.-born workers, many of them recently hired, showed solidarity with their arrested coworkers. She said a small handful expressed the view that they were illegals and had it coming to them.
In Worthington, Minnesota, Evangelina Pinto told the Militant, They are tearing apart families, they are taking away working people.
Swift is the third-largest U.S. processor of beef and pork, with annual sales of $10 billion, and employs 15,000 workers in nine plants across eight states.
The UFCW announced December 12 that it is seeking a federal injunction against the raids, calling them an effort designed to terrorize the workforce.
Protests met the raids at several plants. Dozens of people gathered outside the Grand Island, Nebraska, facility. They shouted at immigration cops and some carried signs saying, Were not aliens, were human.
In Greeley, CBS news reported, migra cops sealed off the area before the early-morning raid. Nonetheless, several hundred people gathered outside the main gate.
Dozens of young protesters marched near the gate, chanting Migra no, Raza sí and carrying signs with slogans such as Dont take my parents at Christmas. When a lone rightist showed up to applaud the raid, people chased him, cursing at him and calling him a racist, the Greeley Tribune reported. He took refuge in a cop car, to jeers from the crowd.
Carlos Sánchez in Minnesota contributed to this article.
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