A Minnesota immigrant rights group has sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement over its raid last year on a meatpacking plant owned by Swift and Company in Worthington, Minnesota. The lawsuit claims that federal agents "insulted, abused, and humiliated the plaintiffs on account of their race." We speak with the executive director of Centro Legal, the group that filed the lawsuit. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: An immigrant rights group based in Minnesota has sued ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over its raid last year of the Swift meatpacking plant in Worthington, Minnesota.
On December 12, federal agents raided Swift plants across six states. More than 1,200 undocumented workers were arrested overall, including more than 200 workers in Worthington.
The lawsuit claims that federal agents "insulted, abused, and humiliated the plaintiffs on account of their race." The suit says female Latino workers were ordered to disrobe in front of federal agents during the raid, while white workers were allowed to move about the plant freely.
Gloria Contreras-Edin joins me here in St. Paul. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Thank you, Amy. I appreciate you having me here today.
AMY GOODMAN: You are the executive director of Centro Legal, the immigrant rights group that filed the lawsuit. Can you talk about the lawsuit and the people you represent?
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Yes, I can. Thank you. The lawsuit was filed on September 4 of this year, the day after Labor Day, and it’s on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who are either U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or those who are authorized to work in this country. We are alleging constitutional violations.
What’s important to recognize in this particular case is that this really wasn’t a typical immigration raid. This was a part of a criminal investigation that the government had been conducting for possibly over a year. They had a list of people whom they could have gone in, picked up, without any disrupt to the companies, to the communities, and they chose not to. And so, whenever you’re part of a criminal investigation — now, I’m not a criminal lawyer, but I know enough to say that when you’re part of a criminal investigation, you’re afforded certain protections. You’re afforded the protection of an unreasonable detention. You’re also afforded the protection to have the right to remain silent, the right to counsel. You’re also afforded the protection to be able to speak to an attorney if an attorney is available to you. In all these situation and across the country, people were not afforded these rights. And so that’s why we filed this lawsuit.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain — and we don’t have much time — but explain how the raid went down in Worthington.
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Well, we know that approximately 100-plus agents descended upon this Swift Company packing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and we know that — we also know that the employer, Swift and Company, supervisors were working with the agents and preventing people from leaving the site. So they surrounded the premises with agents and their vehicles. They pulled up approximately six buses to load people up. And then they systematically and procedurally started rounding up people who were of Latino descent.
It’s important to recognize here that people who did not look Latino were allowed to roam freely throughout the plant, and so those who were Latino, even if you were a citizen or a resident, were required to prove that they were here lawfully. Now, I personally can’t prove that I’m a U.S. citizen. I wouldn’t know how to do it. But in this case they required everyone to do it upon the threat of deportation and removal.
AMY GOODMAN: Were people deported?
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Yes, they were.
AMY GOODMAN: How many?
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: We don’t know how many there were deported, because some were deported immediately and some are still under removal proceedings. Our agency is also challenging the constitutionality of the removal proceedings.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are you asking for? What are you demanding?
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Well, we’re asking for injunctive, declaratory and monetary damages. Now, what that means essentially is, when you ask for injunctive relief, you’re asking them to stop this conduct, this practice. When you’re asking for declaratory relief, you’re asking that the federal court declare that this is wrong, unconstitutional. And, of course, the monetary damages are self-explanatory.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We will continue to follow this lawsuit and also the activities of the ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thanks for joining us.
GLORIA CONTRERAS-EDIN: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Contreras-Edin, attorney and executive director of Centro Legal, a nonprofit law firm that provides legal services to low-income Latinos in the area of immigration law and family law here in Minnesota.