Union files suit against ICE to stop meatpacking raids
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is seeking a federal injunction against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop federal officials from conducting what the union calls illegal workplace raids.A lawsuit to be filed Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, Texas, alleges that agents unlawfully detained workers and violated their constitutional rights during a widespread raid of six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in December.ICE officials investigating identity theft arrested more than 1,200 workers at the plants, but union officials have said more than 12,000 workers were detained against their will during the operation. The plants raided were in Cactus, Texas; Grand Island, Neb.; Greeley, Colo.; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minn.Union president Joseph Hansen planned to formally announce the lawsuit at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, but a draft of the lawsuit and a copy of Hansens prepared remarks was provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday.Workers were denied access to phones, bathrooms, families and legal counsel. Some were handcuffed and held for hours. Others were shipped out on buses, Hansen said in the remarks.Thousands of workers, citizens and legal residents who broke no law, committed no crime and who were not even alleged to have broken a law or committed a crime were criminalized for showing up at work, and they and their families suffered the horrible consequences, Hansen said.Eight workers and the union are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but union officials expect at least three times that many to testify against federal agents. In addition to stopping the raids, the lawsuit seeks incidental damages for workers who say their rights were violated, citing the Immigration and Nationality Act and the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.The lawsuit names Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, both agencies and anonymous federal agents who conducted the Swift raids as defendants.From what weve heard from the complaints, they are baseless, ICE spokesman Tim Counts said on Tuesday.Counts said ICE attorneys had not yet seen the lawsuit, but planned to fight it vigorously.Counts said all the workers were given full access to due process under the law and none had his or her rights violated. He said civil search warrants gave the agency the right to fully search the plants and question everyone there.Counts said workers were allowed to use their own cell phones, company phones and even the phones of federal agents during the operation. He also said that at some of the plants, attorneys tried to get into the plant to talk to workers while the operation was happening.We do not allow client shopping by attorneys during a law enforcement action, Counts said. No law enforcement agency would.A Department of Homeland Security official referred questions to ICE.Workers and union representatives from the plants have complained about how ICE handled the raids since they happened in December. But the idea for a lawsuit from the union surfaced publicly last month, when Hansen and other top union officials met with workers and others in Omaha to hear complaints and discuss their options.One day our government just detains them and starts interrogating them about their condition of life and their place in life that alone is a degradation that our government should not be allowed to get involved in, said Mark Lauritsen, director of the unions food processing, packing and manufacturing division.The Food and Commercial Workers union represents 1.3 million workers in the United States, including 250,000 workers in packing and food processing.Brazilian firm JBS S.A. acquired Swift from a private equity firm for about $1.5 billion in July. The purchase made the company the worlds largest beef processor.
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