On December 12, 2006, six Swift & Company facilities located in Greeley, Colorado; Cactus, Texas; Grand Island, Nebraska; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa and Worthington, Minnesota were raided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE estimates that approximately 1,282 Swift employees have been detained on immigration violations and 65 have been charged with criminal violations related to identity theft. The countries of origin of those detained include: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The raids had an enormous impact on the communities in which they were conducted. Both legal and illegal immigrants were arrested and separated from their families. Many were forced to abandon children at schools or with caretakers.
In Cactus, 275 employees were arrested. In Worthington, Minn., with 230 arrests, residents said dozens of immigrants had gone into hiding. “I’ve never seen anything like it, the sadness, the emptiness, the fear,” a schoolteacher, Barbara Kremer, said. Ms. Kremer said she had provided shelter in her house since the raid for 24 immigrants who were afraid to return to their homes. The raids, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, netted dozens of immigrants who were legal residents but did not have their papers with them at work. Others arrested were illegal who have to leave the country or face deportation. Many have children or spouses who are legal residents or Americans, and they have to decide whether the families will stay here or return to their home countries. Veronica Rodriguez Perez, 20, an American who is works on a production line at the Swift beef-processing plant in Greeley, Colo., said she had not been able to talk with her husband, a Guatemalan, since he was arrested on Veronica Rodriguez Perez, 20, an American who is works on a production line at the Swift beef-processing plant in Greeley, Colo., said she had not been able to talk with her husband, a Guatemalan, since he was arrested on Tuesday. Mrs. Perez said immigration agents separated during the raid from her husband, Roberto Pérez García. “They made him and myself seem like criminals,” she said. “He tried to give me a kiss on the forehead, but they would not let us talk to each other.” Mr. Pérez worked in the slaughterhouse side of the plant, she said. They have an 11-month-old son who was born in Colorado. Mr. Pérez, who was in the United States illegally, had not applied for residency because of the legal costs, she said. Many of the arrested immigrants were taken to Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa, a National Guard base. 1
The raids also affected the nation’s businesses. Swift & Co. was forced to suspend operations in the days following the raids.
Sam Rovit, chief executive of Swift, said the company learned of the ICE investigation in March, but had been “rebuffed repeatedly” when it offered to cooperate. Mr. Rovit said the company had participated since 1997 in a federal program known as Basic Pilot, which allows employers to use a federal database to verify documents presented by job-seekers. “We have complied with every law that is out there on the books,” Mr. Rovit said in an interview. The six plants employ more than 10,000 people, Swift executives said. Mr. Rovit said the company had been careful to avoid inquiring too deeply into backgrounds of job applicants. He said the Justice Department sued Swift in 2001 charging that it discriminated against immigrant workers. The case was settled for $200,000, a company statement said. 2
The raids did little to promote immigration reform and instead terrorized workers as well as businesses while destroying families.
Both Swift and its employees - who bore the brunt of the punishment - are caught in an economic bind far bigger than themselves. Meat processing is dirty and dangerous. Fewer and fewer members of the increasingly educated American work force are interested in the jobs. As a result, although it now pays an average of $13 an hour, or $25,000 a year, the industry increasingly relies on foreign workers, not because they're cheap - $25,000 a year is what trained paramedics and college-educated kindergarten teachers make in meatpacking states such as Iowa and Kansas - but simply because they'll do the work. If immigrants weren't available, companies such as Swift would have to close, and both meatpacking and the agriculture that depends on it - cattle and hog producers - would eventually move to other countries. Not only that, but U.S. law makes the bind much worse for both employers and employees. Despite the meatpacking industry's well-known need for foreign labor, the United States offers virtually no way for these workers to enter the country legally. Every year the economy as a whole creates some 500,000 more unskilled jobs than Americans want to do, yet we issue only 5,000 year-round visas for the immigrants who might fill them. For companies such as Swift and its workers, there's no good answer, and it's not surprising that many break the law. 3
This site was developed as an information exchange between legal service providers, community based organizations, unions and all advocates of those detained due to the Swift & Company raids. For additional resources, please go to http://www.centerforhumanrights.org.