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More Than 1,200 Arrested in Six-State Immigration Raid

StoryDecember 14, 2006
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At least 1,280 workers have been arrested in a series of immigration raids targeting meatpacking plants owned by the company Swift. The raids took place in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota. It marks the largest sweep of its kind ever against a single company. We host a roundtable discussion on the issue. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: At least 1,280 workers have been arrested in a series of immigration raids targeting meatpacking plants owned by the company Swift. The raids took place in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota. It marks the largest sweep of its kind ever against a single company. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff justified the raids, saying many of the detained men and women were using false or stolen identities. The United Food and Commercial Workers International union has filed an emergency lawsuit in an effort to release the workers who they say were illegally detained and are being held without access to legal counsel.

AMY GOODMAN: In Iowa, immigration lawyers have accused the federal government of holding the arrested workers at the military site Camp Dodge near Des Moines.

Joining us in the studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, is Mariano Espinoza. He is the executive director of the Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network. The group is working with communities in Worthington, Minnesota. Three guests also join us on the telephone. From Colorado, where the meatpacking company Swift is based, Sylvia Martinez, a leader of the community group Latinos Unidos in Greeley, Colorado. Kim Salinas is with us, immigration rights attorney who was inside an immigration detention center all day yesterday trying to meet with some of the detained workers. And on the line with us from Washington, D.C., where we’ll begin, is Jim Papian, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Can you explain the scope of these raids? How did they go down, Jim?

JIM PAPIAN: Yes. On Tuesday morning, 13,000 workers kissed their spouses goodbye. They fixed the lunches for their kids. They took transportation into their meatpacking plants, where they had been working, and they began doing their job. Shortly after that, in the early dawn, in many of those plants, ICE agents surrounded the plants, stormed into the plant, locked the gate, blocked the plant, dressed in riot gear and with military weapons in some of these plants, jumped on tables, began segregating and herding people, terrorizing, you know, 13,000 folks — terrorizing and criminalizing, essentially, 13,000 people who had gone in to do their work that day.

Subsequent to that, they began interviewing and detaining people and then eventually shipping them out to distant cities into other states. Now, why did they do this? Well, they went into federal court, and they got a warrant. They said that there had been some identity theft. People were in effect stealing Social Security numbers from other people and then using those in terms of their I-9 regulation to gain employment.

So, what the ICE agents did was say, you know, “We’ve got 170 folks that we suspect of identity theft, but what we’re really going to do is we’re going to terrorize 13,000 people. We’re going to separate parents from children.” Children were left in schools that day, no one there to pick them up. If you see the headlines from around the country, you’ll see from The Des Moines Register, it says “A breast-feeding mother missing in raid.” A Utah headline, “Families ripped apart, communities are ripped apart,” you know, to essentially go in and interview 170 people.

Now, I mean, these plants have HR departments. You know, there is a process for identifying folks for bringing them in for interviews, if that’s necessary, and for the ICE agents to make their determinations. But what the government chose to do in this case was to engage in an act that really can’t be described other than terrorizing an entire workforce. So I think that’s — in a nutshell, I think that sums up what happened on that day.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how many people were actually detained as suspected of being in the country illegally?

JIM PAPIAN: Well, I think that 62 people, I think, were detained for identity theft violations. And I believe somewhere around 1,200 were detained for being here without proper status.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariano Espinoza, you’re in the St. Paul studio, executive director of Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network. Talk about what’s happened in your community?

MARIANO ESPINOZA: Good morning to all. Well, it’s a sad day today for the immigrant community here, and it’s a human tragedy. American children are left without their parents, their brothers and their sisters, and we are just trying to figure out how to help the community right now. I just want to make sure that it’s clear: We need to stop this.

America is using the excuse of being a nation of laws to criminalize those workers. None of the 230-plus workers being detained right now are charged with identity theft. So this is just an excuse to terrorize our community, to divide our families. And why do we need to have this situation right now on the 12th of December, a very, very important date for our communities in Latin America? And why do we have to do this to children before Christmas, before the end of the year, where every year we celebrate our families? We need to stop this. This is not right, and this is a shame for this country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to bring in Sylvia Martinez from Latinos Unidos in Colorado. Some of the reports that I heard yesterday said that there were numerous cases of children of some of these workers in the plants who ended up — school officials at the end of school had no one to pick them up, and many children in some parts of the country spent hours and hours after school, as officials tried to figure out what family members could be located to pick them up. Could you talk about that or the impact in Colorado, as well?

SYLVIA MARTINEZ: It’s a huge impact on children, absolutely, and on families as a whole. There were definitely children — there are definitely children without parents. A lot of these families were comprised of a single-parent households, and so, yes, there are children — what happened is after school they ended up — these children who did not have a mother or a father, or a mother and father to go to, they ended up with neighbors, with uncles, with aunts, that sort of situation. We’re thinking — trying to calculate specifically — it’s pretty difficult because there are still a lot of people not willing to come forward for fear that Social Services might get involved and take these children and, you know, pull them apart, not willing to come forward. But we have an estimate of about 100 children that are without parents right now, that are with neighbors and friends.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Salinas, you’re an immigration rights attorney. You spent the day in the detention centers in Greeley, Colorado. Can you describe who you found there, what you were telling people?

KIM SALINAS: Sure. And, Amy, I just wanted to kind of pick up on what the first speaker said about this being an act of terrorism. And, in fact, it is. The choice of one of the holiest days in Mexico is no accident. And not only were the 1,300 people that were arrested terrorized, but the entire community has been terrorized, and that continues in that people still don’t know where their family members are. ICE is not giving out any information about these people. Locally, we have, we estimate, 300 people missing. We don’t have any lists about exactly who those people are. We have no idea where those people are. We’ve been told that there are between four or five different facilities, including county jails, a federal facility and the immigration jail.

We went yesterday to the immigration detention facility. It was a pro bono project that works on the detention facility to try to give some know-your-rights presentations to the detainees and kind of give them an evaluation of their case. And we saw 12 people. We spent the entire afternoon there. We were only allowed to see 12 people. While we were there, the director of the pro bono project heard that there were some buses out back. She went out to investigate. People were being given their own deportations to sign on those buses, and we protested and said, “Hey, here we are, a bunch of bilingual attorneys here to give free legal advice. Let us advise these people before you have them sign their own deportation.” And we were denied that opportunity to go back and advise these people of their rights.

They have set up a — well, they have a toll-free number that they say families can call to find out where their family members are, but in fact the only thing they’ll tell you on that toll-free number is the name of the person and the state they’re arrested in. They give absolutely no information about where these people are.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Kim Salinas, I heard ICE Commissioner Julie Myers say last night that the Swift Company had been very cooperative in the entire process on this. Have you had any contact with the management of Swift, and had any sense that the company knew this was happening?

KIM SALINAS: I haven’t had any contact with the Swift Company, but the whole identity theft sort of cover gives a really easy out to Swift. I mean, Swift can then just say, 'Well, gee whiz, we were duped by these bad people who were stealing the identity of U.S. citizens. And we were really just trying to comply with the laws.” And it definitely gives Swift an out. And obviously they're not really looking for people who are committing identity theft, because they’re not going after people who are making and selling false identifications. They were after terrorizing the Latino and the immigrant community.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariano Espinoza in St. Paul and Worthington, the community, how were you able to reach out to the community? Was there Spanish-language newspaper, television?

MARIANO ESPINOZA: Yeah. It was very, very difficult to communicate with people and with the families here. Just to give you an idea, Worthington is located about three-and-a-half or four hours from the Twin Cities. We don’t have a Latino radio station working 24 hours a day. We don’t have Latino newspapers. So it was difficult. There was not a communication line open to the public working. We needed to work with one of the English radio stations to make something happen, but it was only after 7:00 p.m., so it was really difficult. But members of the UFCW and the president of the local UFCW there was able to be in the Swift, so that’s how we got the first calls.

And after that, it was just a very chaotic situation, because the word was spread really quickly, but within hours, the families were trying to hide instead of trying to communicate, because it’s a very — right now it’s a very isolated population. It’s only 12,000 people. It’s in the middle of nowhere. So basically the federal agents [inaudible], and it was — everybody knew that immigration was there, so it was a communication like talking to a cell by cell and trying to just inform the neighbor next door to you about the situation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Mariano, I’d like to ask you, in terms of the importance of the Latino community to the meat plant there in your community, and how important the plant is to the Latino community there?

KIM SALINAS: Yeah, the Swift right now here employs about 25 percent of the entire population in Worthington, Minnesota. This is the number one employer in the southwestern part of the state. It’s a $2 billion company. So there is going to be no doubt an impact in the economy, but basically we already know that some community members need our money to pay rent, and we know that some don’t have any place to go. So we really need to think about how this immigrant community, the Latino community in Worthington, Minnesota, has brought life to the community. And right now, we don’t know what is going to happen, not just to the Latino community, but how this is going to affect businesses, how this is going to affect people in other communities. It was not just Worthington.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariano, we’re going to have to leave it there. But Mariano Espinoza of the Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network; Sylvia Martinez, leader of Latinos Unidos; Kim Salinas, immigrant rights attorney, Greeley, Colorado; Jim Papian of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, I want to thank you all for being there. I want to say that we did call the Department of Homeland Security. They refused to come on with us, but we will certainly continue to follow this story.

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