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Workers protest raids of packing plants
Oppose arrests of 1,300, deportations
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 71/No. 1January 8, 2007


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Workers protest raids of packing plants
Oppose arrests of 1,300, deportations
(lead article)
Relatives and supporters of workers arrested in raid at Swift meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado, face off with immigration agents December 12 outside factory.

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa, December 20—Protests, vigils, and other meetings have taken place across the Midwest in response to the December 12 raids of six Swift meatpacking plants in six states. Events have taken place in Greeley, Durango, and Denver, Colorado; Des Moines, Marshalltown, and Sioux City, Iowa; Omaha and Grand Island, Nebraska; and Austin, St. Paul, and Worthington, Minnesota.

Ninety workers were arrested at the Swift plant here, which employs about 1,800 workers in a town of 26,000. Altogether 1,282 workers were arrested, in the largest-ever immigration sweep at a single company.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that 295 workers were arrested in Cactus, Texas; 261 in Greeley; 230 in Worthington; 145 in Hyrum, Utah; and 261 in Grand Island, Nebraska. These include workers originally from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan, and Ethiopia. All the plants except the Hyrum facility are organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW).

Many workers here are speaking out against what happened. Kenneth Paul, a U.S.-born trimmer and a member of UFCW Local 1149, told the Militant as he was leaving the plant, “The way the ICE agents carried out the raid reminded me of my experience in the Marine Corps. It was fast. They wouldn’t let us talk to each other.”

“In my opinion," he said, "if people want to work, you should give them their work papers.”

Another U.S.-born worker, who asked that her name not be published, said that while she thought it was important to “follow the law,” the co-workers they arrested “only came here to work, just like us.” Describing the raid, she said, “I thought it was uncalled for, the way they made people sit for hours in handcuffs. That was cruel.”

Workers rounded up by ICE agents were taken in buses to the National Guard’s Camp Dodge near Des Moines. More than 500 workers arrested at three plants in the region were shipped there for “processing.” By the weekend, most had been deported or sent to federal detention centers.

Michael Said, lawyer for some of the imprisoned workers, said cops pressured many to accept deportation, including some with legal papers. “It basically goes like this: ‘You have no rights. Your lawyer doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If you go before a judge, you will wind up spending three months in jail. But if you sign here you’ll be back in Mexico in a few hours, and you won’t have to go to jail,” he told the Des Moines Register. Most workers had no access to a lawyer.

Two days after the arrests, 200 people held a protest at the federal building in Des Moines. Several dozen UFCW officials from around the region participated. At the protest, UFCW Region 6 official Carl Ariston said the immigration cops “have been given carte blanche to terrorize 13,000 workers, their families and communities.”

More than 500 people attended a December 15 meeting at St. Mary’s Church here, called by officials of the Iowa division of Latino Affairs. Workers and their families demanded to know the status of their loved ones. Lawyers spoke about not being able to see workers held at Camp Dodge.

Two days later a “Community Solidarity Meeting” of 200 people was held here. International UFCW official Todd Chase encouraged workers to come by the local union to discuss their concerns, and said the union is working to make sure everyone gets their paychecks.

In the discussion period, Chuck Guerra, a production worker at the Swift plant, said the raids “are an attack on the labor movement. The union has to get involved in this fight. We need to demand legalization for all immigrants.” His comments were well-received.

Several weeks before the raid, Swift fired more than 400 workers at its plants, saying it had been told by U.S. officials that their Social Security numbers did not match federal records. A week before the raid, a federal grand jury indicted five Swift workers on charges of using fraudulent papers to get hired.

Diana Newberry, who works on the loin line at Swift, said in a Channel 13 interview the day of the raid, “We need to stand up against this and fight for legalization of all immigrants now. They are arresting my coworkers, not criminals.”

Concepción Mendoza, a single mother with five children, was released from Camp Dodge after three days. She refused to sign papers for immediate deportation. “The agents told her she had no rights and would likely go to jail and pay up to $40,000 in fines unless she signed a deportation order,” the Des Moines Register reported.

But Mendoza stood her ground. She eventually gained access to an attorney and was released on the basis of being a 14-year resident with no criminal record and three U.S.-born children. She now awaits a hearing.

Mendoza said that during the raid workers were herded into the cafeteria and ordered into three groups: U.S. citizens, legal residents, and “mojados,” a derogatory term meaning “wetbacks.” Handcuffed, she was taken to a Homeland Security bus, with the windows darkened in order to isolate them.

While her five children waited to learn their mother’s fate, they saw a photo in the Register of their uncle, who also works in the plant. He was in handcuffs being forced onto a plane. The family still does not know his whereabouts.

Three days after the raid, with only about 65 percent of day shift workers on the job, production at the Marshalltown plant had fallen by as much as a third.

Joe Torres, a kill floor worker with 10 years in the plant, told the Militant, “They still want the same level of production, but now it’s one person working where you used to have two. My partner was taken in the raid, and now I have to do both his work and mine.”

Frank Forrestal is a kill floor worker at Tyson Foods in Perry, Iowa, and a member of UFCW Local 1149.


WORTHINGTON, Minnesota—In recent interviews, workers at the Swift plant here described the scene December 12 as more than 100 armed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents entered the slaughterhouse at 7:30 a.m. and deployed themselves at every stairwell, bathroom, hallway, and department. They guarded entrances and exits to the plant. Some 230 workers were arrested and taken away in 10 Homeland Security buses.

The Swift plant employs between 1,800 and 2,300 workers. Nearly two-thirds are immigrants, mostly Latin American—born but also workers from Asia or Africa.

Several workers, who asked that their names not be published, told the Militant how ICE agents, aided by plant supervisors, herded them into locker rooms, where they were told to put away their equipment and submit to interrogations by the federal cops.

Some described being crowded into different rooms in the plant, where everyone was handcuffed and searched. They were denied food and water and not allowed to make a phone call or even use the bathroom.

Mike Potter, president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1161, which organizes workers at this plant, said in an interview, “When I tried to go into the cafeteria to talk to the workers, I was told by an ICE agent to leave. When I told him the union’s contract language gave me the right to represent these workers, he demanded proof. He followed me to the union hall and when I showed him the contract, he brushed it off, saying the federal warrant authorizing the raid superseded it.”

Immigrant rights lawyers Bruce Nestor and Susana DeLeon reported that when they tried to meet with workers in the plant to provide legal representation, they were barred by ICE agents.

During the several-hour interrogation period, workers said, ICE agents demanded to see their papers. When workers asked to call home to have their papers brought to the plant, the cops refused and tried unsuccessfully to intimidate workers into allowing them to search their homes.

By the late afternoon, after the interrogations and arrests, the company attempted to restart production by telling the remaining workers to go back to work. Many refused and went home.

Swift employee Enrique Manrique told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in a December 13 interview how his wife, who is also employed at the plant, was thrown on a bus and taken to a prison in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Other workers have been sent to detention centers in Iowa, while 42 others were locked up in the county jail in Worthington.

Many workers who were released on bond pending court hearings on their immigration status say that Swift has been asking them to return to work.

Local immigrant rights supporters, working out of the UFCW offices here, are planning a morning protest outside the county jail. Activists in St. Paul, together with UFCW Local 789 and other organizations, are planning to demonstrate in front of the offices of Sen. Norman Coleman to denounce the raids and support the workers.

On December 17, dozens of people came into the UFCW hall, seeking information and helping distribute more than seven tons of food collected in the Twin Cities area for families of arrested workers.
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