The government’s high-profile crackdown on alleged identity theft
by foreign workers at Swift meatpacking plants in Colorado and five
other states faces mounting challenges in court.
A federal judge in Denver on Friday ordered immigration officials
in Colorado to account for all workers detained and deported.
U.S. District Court Judge John Kane – noting “confusion on all
sides” as to the whereabouts, legal status and even identities of
detainees – also gave the government 48 hours to hold an
immigration bond hearing for any detained worker who has not
already had one.
And Kane said any workers who signed agreements to voluntarily
return to their home countries now must be allowed to withdraw that
agreement if they wish.
“The government is on notice that this court is monitoring its
actions” in handling detainees, Kane said at a court hearing
United Food and Commercial Workers union attorneys had filed a
petition contending that arrests in the raids violated workers’
constitutional due-process rights. Immigration officials deny
No federal criminal charges have been filed in Colorado, where 261
workers were arrested at Swift’s plant in Greeley.
Simultaneous raids at Swift plants in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska,
Texas and Utah led to 1,282 arrests overall. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement officials on Friday said 219 face state or
federal criminal charges.
At the court hearing in Denver, Kane told Justice Department
attorneys defending the government as well as lawyers representing
unions and workers to meet and discuss the shared challenge of
sorting out who is being held where.
ICE agents conducting the raids used “a very orderly process,”
said Mark Pestal, an assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado. “The
chaos is created because (workers) are using multiple names.”
Scared workers giving armed authorities false names likely is a
factor in the confusion, said John Bowen, chief counsel
representing the union.
Now the workers “are being held improperly,” with access to
lawyers impaired, Bowen said.
“We want to make sure these people have an opportunity to find out
what their rights are,” he said. “It is important to us that
Judge Kane has made it clear he intends to ensure the process works
After the raids, federal authorities bused workers to a compound
near Denver for questioning, then to various facilities around the
country. Detained workers are thought to be held at federal
immigration detention facilities in Aurora and El Paso, Texas.
Several claimed in affidavits that the raids left them scared,
uncertain about legal options and inclined to sign voluntary
ICE agents addressed workers in Spanish. But workers, some of them
illiterate migrants who use indigenous languages as well as
Spanish, claimed in affidavits that they were unclear about what