Thursday, September 13, 2007

Union sues over U.S. raids at meat plants

Striking back at federal officials' stepped-up raids at meatpacking plants in search of undocumented immigrants, the food workers union filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to halt similar seizures in the future.

"It is unconscionable that our government would round up hundreds, sometimes thousands, of innocent workers in an effort to target a few select individuals," Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said in a statement.

"They shouldn't be carrying out enforcement actions the way they did," said Gening Liao, an attorney for the union. She said the union hopes to permanently block the government from such wide-sweeping efforts.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, claims that raids carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in December at meat plants from Minnesota to Texas were "excessive, illegal and unnecessary." In raids at six Swift & Co. plants, the union said, several thousand of its members were held by federal officials, and ultimately 1,139 workers were arrested. Of these about 250 were later convicted on various criminal charges, including 65 for identity theft, according to union officials.

Union officials could not say how many were deported for violating immigration laws. The union represents workers at all but one of the plants.

An ICE spokesman said government attorneys have not yet reviewed the lawsuit but added that the raids "were conducted lawfully and in full accordance with policy and procedures. Each person was treated with respect." But Liao said workers at the plants were "held at gunpoint, blocked from moving around and detained even after they were cleared."

One worker, who is a legal resident, was not allowed to call his family to produce documents proving his claim, said Liao. "He was held for 12 hours until they verified who he was," she added.

In its lawsuit the union claims that a number of its members were not allowed to contact union attorneys while they were detained.

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