Raids at Swift Plants Target Identity Theft


Greeley – After massive raids on Swift & Co. meatpacking plants
here and in five other states, immigration authorities are building
a new kind of case against illegal workers: accusing them of
hijacking the identities of U.S. citizens.

Authorities contend workers bought or stole names and Social
Security numbers of U.S. citizens and legal residents and used them
to get jobs at Swift plants here and in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska,
Texas and Utah.

“The issue here is that U.S. citizens have been victimized by
illegal aliens,” said Carl Rusnok, spokesman for U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security.
“This is a situation where it’s not just getting fraudulent
identification. It’s actually stealing U.S. identities.”

Some local district attorneys around the country have tried to
fight illegal immigration using identity-theft, criminal
impersonation and forgery statutes. Tuesday’s simultaneous raids
mark the first time ICE agents working on a national scale have
made identity theft the focus of a major worksite investigation.

Armed federal agents at dawn surrounded Swift’s plants in Greeley
and elsewhere, rounding up thousands of workers, questioning
hundreds of them and detaining an undetermined number. At the
Greeley plant, agents loaded detained workers onto four white,
45-seat buses and drove them away.

Tuesday’s raids capped a 10-month federal investigation into
identity theft involving immigrant workers at Greeley-based Swift.

In March, federal officials issued subpoenas for 1,500 employment
records, and the company cooperated, Swift president and chief
executive Sam Rovit said.

“We offered repeatedly to make ourselves available in any way or
to manage any criminal behavior and couldn’t get a meeting until
September,” Rovit said. “They were absolutely unwilling to

Rovit said investigators told the company that complaints of
identity theft filed with the Federal Trade Commission matched up
with 170 Swift workers. Yet Tuesday’s raids, he said, disrupted the
work of 7,000 employees nationwide.

“If they did know who those 170 were, they could have gone and
identified them and taken them away,” Rovit said. “We don’t see
why they had to come in to do something that was this highly

The company, he said, has never knowingly hired an illegal

No charges filed Tuesday

Starting as soon as today, some detained immigrants may be deported
without being charged with identity crimes. Authorities are
considering filing criminal charges against others, Rusnok said. No
charges were filed Tuesday.

Swift is one of the world’s largest meat-processing companies, with
$9.4 billion in annual sales. No one at Swift has been charged with
a crime. “We do not believe that we will be charged with anything
or fined for anything,” Rovit said.

The raids turned the lives of workers and their families
upside-down and reignited the immigration debate from factory fence
lines to Congress.

Parents and siblings of Greeley workers flocked to the factory
after hearing of the raids.

“How am I supposed to explain to the children that their dad’s not
coming home?” 27-year-old Sara Zarate said, crying as she peered
through the gray fence at the factory. Her husband, Candido, is an
illegal immigrant from Guatemala whose $12.20-an-hour wage at the
plant supports them and their five children.

The four buses, with green stripes on the sides, had just rumbled
away. Zarate didn’t know if her husband was on one or where the
buses would go.

“Who’s going to help me and my kids on Christmas? They’re
expecting their dad on Christmas,” she said.

Meanwhile, Greeley activist Joy Breuer, who opposes illegal
immigration, welcomed the raids.

“I’m all for what happened today,” Breuer said. “We need to
start obeying the laws around here. A lot of people are saying the
town is falling apart.”

Breuer blames illegal immigration for various problems around
Greeley: an overburdened health-care system and increased gang
activity and drug sales.

City officials worried about economic damage.

“I’m concerned this will affect how people will view our community
– employers as well as people coming here to live,” Mayor Tom
Selders said. “I’m concerned that this be done with respect for
people’s civil rights.”

The economic and humanitarian harm inflicted by Tuesday’s raids
“is what happens when we have a do-nothing Congress which refuses
to act,” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar said. “What is happening at Swift
… sends a strong signal to Congress that we must act with all due
speed to enact comprehensive immigration reform. When Democrats
take control in January, I hope today’s occurrences will motivate
us to act.”

An all-but-open secret

A labor union filed for an injunction in court shortly after the
raids began around 7 a.m.

The use of falsified documents to get work in Greeley and other
meatpacking towns has been an all-but-open secret for years.

Even factory supervisors know about it, said former Swift worker
David Silva, 35, a naturalized U.S. citizen now working in oil
fields, whose wife, Marisela, 32, was detained.

“I don’t know where they took her,” Silva said. “My kids?
They’ve never been to Mexico. They don’t even know that country.”

Federal Social Security Administration officials over the past five
years sent out 8 million “mismatch” letters to employers
nationwide flagging possible problems with worker-identifying

Under federal immigration law, it’s up to companies to verify the
legal status of workers. Swift officials say they participated in a
government pilot program to make such checks.

ICE agents began their investigation in February.

Investigators used Federal Trade Commission records to track
workers using names and numbers of U.S. citizens. Then they
contacted the U.S. citizens – who in many cases indicated a
willingness to press charges, according to some 25 search
affidavits filed in Weld County Court.

“ICE takes very seriously aliens who use false IDs, and especially
those who steal identities, to illegally gain employment,” said
Jeffrey Copp, ICE special agent in charge in Denver.

In Congress, there has been no resolution of the immigration issues
that dominated debate this year. Lawmakers still are divided.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who strongly opposes illegal
immigration, issued a statement congratulating law enforcement
agencies involved in Tuesday’s raids.

“My hope at this point is that the U.S. government has the courage
to prosecute the Swift & Co. executives who may have been complicit
in their hiring,” Tancredo said.

ICE officials said they would offer details about the raids at a
news conference this morning in Washington.

Staff writers Christine Tatum, Christopher N. Osher and David
Migoya contributed to this report.

Recent immigration raids


September 2006: Agents arrest 120 suspected illegal workers at a
Buckley Air Force Base housing project.

April 2006: Agents arrest 38 undocumented workers at pallet-supply
company IFCO Systems in Commerce City. Raids occur simultaneously
at IFCO plants in 25 other states, resulting in a total of 1,200

July 2003: Federal agents arrest 31 civilian workers at the Air
Force Academy for using false identification to enter the facility.
Most are believed to be illegal immigrants.

September 2002: Agents arrest 110 Denver International Airport
workers, mostly illegal immigrants, for using fake or stolen Social
Security numbers.


October 2006: Agents arrest 28 undocumented workers in a raid on
Torrey Farms in Barker, N.Y., about 40 miles east of Buffalo.

September 2006: In a week-long sweep, more than 161 illegal
immigrants are captured in southwestern Florida. Separately, agents
raid a chicken-processing plant and several homes in and around
Emanuel County, Ga., arresting more than 120 undocumented workers.

September 2006: Agents raid a chicken-processing plant and several
homes in and around Emanuel County, Ga. More than 120 undocumented
workers are arrested.

August 2006: Agents and Houston immigration officers arrest 326
immigrants during a week-long operation in Texas.

Sources: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Nexis