Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Wednesday conducted a series of raids on businesses in Minnesota and Nebraska, resulting in the indictment of 17 business owners and managers for fraud and money laundering, and knowingly hiring and mistreating undocumented immigrants, the Associated Press reported.
The raid, described by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as one of the largest in the agency’s 15-year history, was unusual because it reportedly targeted business owners rather than undocumented workers.
“The whole investigation was initiated, basically, because we knew that these businesses were cheating these workers and cheating taxpayers and cheating their competition,” Tracy Cormier, special agent in charge of the raid, told the Associated Press.
The businesses, mostly tomato greenhouses and potato processing facilities, allegedly used fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to employ undocumented workers, and used “force, fraud, coercion” and the threat of deportation to exploit employees. Additionally, the businesses engaged in wage theft, frequently forcing their undocumented workers to cash their paychecks at the business for a high fee and withheld taxes from their workers’ pay, but did not turn those funds over to the government.
Officials are still questioning whether to take three of the managers or owners into custody.
More than 130 undocumented workers were also taken into ICE custody as a result of the raid. In Nebraska, ICE agents in bullet-proof jackets stormed a facility while state troopers blocked the entrance, as roughly 80 employees were screened and either released or placed on a large bus and transported to Grand Island to be questioned and processed, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Family members stood outside sobbing, the paper reported, and one woman was turned away as she attempted to provide immigration papers for her boyfriend. Another desperately attempted to call her mother, who was working inside the facility.
“These hardworking people, they shouldn’t be doing this to them…. All they want is a better life for their children,” Maria Ortiz, who works at the Antelope County Sheriff’s Office, told the World-Herald as she consoled the crying daughter of one worker. “Who else is going to do this work?”
The raid is the latest aggressive ICE maneuver in recent months. As The Atlantic’s CityLab reported, the raids not only inflict damaging, traumatizing effects on Latinx communities, but frequently result in the separation of children and parents.
The town of O’Neill, Nebraska, where one of Wednesday’s raids was conducted, has a population of just over 3,000. O’Neill Public School superintendent Amy Shane told the Washington Post she suspects anywhere between 50 to 100 children in her district may have been separated from a relative or immediate family member as a result of this week’s raid, given how many town residents were employed by the business.
On June 5, immigration officials similarly raided a gardening shop in Ohio, arresting 114 workers in the process. That action was preceded by one on April 5, at a rural meatpacking plant in Tennessee. Officials arrested 94 workers as a result of that raid.