Raid at Fairfield Business - Koch Foods - Nets 161
as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer
Federal agents raided a poultry packaging plant Tuesday in Fairfield and arrested 161 suspected illegal immigrants who were working there.
The raid, among the largest of its kind in the country this year, is part of a two-year investigation into the hiring practices at Chicago-based Koch Foods Co.
Immigration officials described Koch Foods as an "egregious violator" of U.S. immigration laws, which means that the company is suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented workers.
Local and federal authorities said they would pursue criminal charges against company officials if they find evidence of fraud, falsification of documents or other crimes.
"We're going to look wherever the evidence takes us," said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Ohio and Michigan.
"No one gets a free pass."
Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones, an outspoken advocate for tougher immigration enforcement, said he hopes the raid sends a message to other employers.
"If you come to this county, you can't come here and commit a crime and go unscathed," he said.
'GOVERNMENT WON'T WORK WITH ME'
Workplace raids such as the one in Fairfield are on the rise across the country because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made them a priority, stirring debate about the fairness of immigration laws.
More than 3,600 suspected illegal aliens have been arrested nationwide in the past year, about three times as many as in 2005. The raid in Fairfield is the largest in Greater Cincinnati this year and one of the 20 largest nationwide.
More than 300 local and federal law-enforcement officers swept into the plant on Port Union Road about 10 a.m. Tuesday, sending several employees scrambling for the exits.
Moskowitz said some workers tried to hide in a subzero freezer and had to be rescued by ICE agents. He said a few were treated for hypothermia, but no one was seriously hurt.
Company officials in Chicago declined to comment, but a spokesman for the Fairfield plant said he has tried for several years to weed out undocumented workers. He said federal authorities have offered him no help.
"The government won't work with me," Monte Lobb, the spokesman, said.
He said the raid put such a dent in his work force of about 600 that the company could lose as much as $100,000 in chicken because no one was there to package it.
Lobb said the company does its best to determine whether the workers it hires are here legally.
"I'm against illegals," he said. "I'm not going to do anything to break the law, but people get false papers."
Authorities declined to comment on any conversations they might have had with Lobb or others at Koch about illegal workers. When asked about the company's claims, Moskowitz cited the number of arrests at the plant Tuesday.
"We identified 180 people for questioning, and 161 turned out to be illegal," he said. "I think those numbers speak for themselves."
'THESE RAIDS ARE AN OUTRAGE'
Advocates for immigrants said the raid was an arbitrary and unfair action that hurts immigrant families and does nothing to solve fundamental flaws in American immigration law.
"We're looking for them to be not so aggressive with workplace raids until we get a comprehensive reform bill passed," said Jason Riveiro, president of the League of United Latina American Citizens of Cincinnati.
"The problem persists," he said. "It's going to get larger and more difficult to solve."
About a dozen sign-toting protesters briefly interrupted federal officials Tuesday at the start of a news conference to discuss the raid.
"These raids are an outrage," said Dan LaBotz, a member of the Coalition for the Rights and Dignity of Immigrants. "These are working people. These are family people, and they're paying taxes."
Moskowitz tried to head off criticism by touting efforts to evaluate the workers detained Tuesday to determine whether they have family or children who rely on them for care. If they do, he said, they might be released pending deportation proceedings.
Butler County children's services officials also were at the plant to make sure no children were left without supervision because a parent or guardian was arrested. Officials said no children had been taken into the county's custody as of late Tuesday.
Koch Foods has processing and packaging centers in several states, including Georgia, Illinois and Alabama. According to Forbes magazine, the company was founded in 1973 and had revenues of $1.4 billion in 2005.
The magazine listed Koch last year as the 274th-largest private company in America.