On Wednesday, a large ICE operation conducted targeted businesses in Nebraska and Minnesota that officials say knowingly hired and mistreated illegal immigrants, AP/TIME writes.
The investigative arm of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, led the operation that saw more than a dozen businesses and plants raided and 17 business owners and managers indicted for fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Fourteen of them were taken into custody Wednesday and three were still being sought.
Authorities arrested more than 130 workers at various businesses, transporting them to Grand Island, Nebraska, to be questioned and processed. Most of the arrests occurred in northern Nebraska and southern Minnesota. Several of the businesses were in O’Neill, Nebraska, a town about 160 miles northwest of Omaha.
In O’Neill, which is home to about 3,700 people, workers at the tomato greenhouse, potato processing facility and a cattle feedlot were greeted at about 8:45 on Wednesday morning by agents who loaded those suspected of being in the country illegally onto coach buses in the parking lot, Washington Post writes.
They were then transported to the parking lot of an ICE office building in neighboring Grand Island and detained temporarily beneath a large tent, the Omaha World-Herald reported and two immigration advocacy groups told The Washington Post.
The raid’s crackdown on both the employers and the suspected illegal workers comes amid a recent surge in employer audits by the Trump administration. Tracy Cormier, special agent in charge of Homeland Security’s St. Paul, Minnesota office, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the 15-month investigation was one of the largest in the agency’s 15-year history.
“The whole investigation was initiated, basically, because we knew that these businesses were cheating these workers and cheating taxpayers and cheating their competition,” Cormier said.
The businesses engaged in a scheme that used fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to employ people in the country illegally, she said. The businesses used “force, fraud, coercion, threat of arrest and/or deportation” to exploit the workers, Cormier added. The business that hired out the immigrants also forced the workers to cash their paychecks with that business for an exorbitant fee and withheld taxes from workers’ pay without paying those taxes to the government.
The workers who were apprehended in the operation will either be issued notices to appear before an immigration judge and released from custody or remain in ICE custody pending immigration court proceedings, the Lincoln Journal Star adds.
“Authorities suspect the illegal aliens who were knowingly hired as part of this alleged conspiracy were exploited (through) force, coercion or threat of arrest and/or deportation,” according to an ICE news release.
Other businesses raided were in Stromsburg, Ainsworth, Bartlett and Royal, all in Nebraska, where civil rights organizations were quick to denounce Wednesday’s operation.
“The ACLU condemns this ongoing campaign of misery that targets immigrants, disrupts local businesses and separates families,” Rose Godinez, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said in a written statement released Wednesday morning after news reports of the raid at O’Neill Ventures.