Iowa Immigration Raid Is Largest In U.S. History

Iowa immigration raid is largest in U.S. history

The Des Moines Register, May 13, 2008

Cedar Rapids, IA — Federal officials said Tuesday that they had detained 390 illegal immigrants after a raid on a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in what they described as the largest single-site raid of its kind nationwide.

The detainees include 314 men and 76 women, according to figures released Tuesday by federal authorities. Fifty-six detainees – mostly women with young children – have been released under the supervision of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A similar factory raid in New Bedford, Mass., last year netted 361 arrests, most of whom faced deportation and were separated from their families.

'We're here to discuss not only the largest operation of its kind ever in Iowa, but in fact the largest single-site enforcement operation of its kind in the country,' U.S. Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth said.

The detainees included 290 who claimed to be Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, three Israelis and four Ukrainians. Among the detained were 12 juveniles, six of whom have been released.

Customs and law enforcement agents worked through the night processing the detainees, said Claude Arnold, the ICE special agent in charge of the operation. Detainees were 'administratively arrested' but have not yet been criminally charged, he said.

Detainees who are charged with aggravated identity theft, unlawful use of a Social Security number or other offenses will be given lawyers and sent to appearances in one of three makeshift courtrooms at the detainee center in Waterloo, Iowa, Arnold said.

Arnold would not disclose how many people were involved in Monday's effort, citing security concerns.

Two injuries were reported at the detention center in Waterloo, Arnold said. One involved a man who fled from agents and injured his leg. The man was treated at a hospital and released. A second injury involved a customs agent who suffered minor cuts after slipping and falling down a stairwell.

'The plans went very well' so far, Arnold said. 'This is a huge undertaking.'

Dummermuth declined to comment about possible charges against managers at Agriprocessors, Inc., the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant, citing the ongoing investigation. A federal affidavit released Monday detailed several eyewitness accounts of employee abuse, including one floor manager who allegedly struck a worker with a meat hook.

Nationwide, ICE agents arrested 863 people on criminal charges in 2007 and made more than 4,000 administrative arrests – a tenfold increase from five years before, according to the agency's Web site.

At St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, Iowa, near the plant, tension prevailed as about 400 people waited and watched for the next sign that their lives would again be affected by the raid. Many believe U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are still in town.

One detainee agreed to speak to The Des Moines Register, but declined to be identified because of fear of recrimination by ICE. She will face charges of being in the country illegally and having false identification, and will likely be deported.

Inside the meatpacking plant on Monday morning, workers heard the agents before they saw them. The woman said a call came over the loudspeaker, announcing that ICE was in the plant. Many in the plant tried to hide. Some ran.

'No one had a clue' a raid was coming, she said in Spanish, despite rumors during the weekend that were discussed at an immigration-rights advocates' meeting in Waterloo. 'Everyone scampered, everyone tried to get away.'

ICE agents with pistols called for those hiding to come out. 'Once they knew they couldn't get away, they came down from their hiding places,' she said.

The agents grouped those with identification from those without it, then put the second group in single-file lines. They were frisked, told to remove any sweaters or heavy garments and shackled – handcuffs were placed on their wrists and attached to their waists, and their feet were cuffed as well.

'There was no mistreatment,' she said. 'They told us to sit. We sat.'

She was instructed to fill out paperwork that detailed her date of birth and country of origin. She is from Guatemala but said she told investigators that she was from Mexico.

When she's deported, she said she would rather be taken to Mexico, where it will be easier to reenter America.