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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Ohio raided another company and said 146 workers were arrested as part of a year-long investigation into Fresh Mark, a northern Ohio meat supplier.  ICE officials raided the company’s plant in Salem, Ohio, about 4 p.m. Tuesday. Search warrants also were served at three other locations in the state.  An ICE spokesman said the investigation continues and could result in additional charges. He did not rule out charges against Fresh Mark employees who may have hired workers in the country illegally.

Fresh Mark was once touted by the government as a partner in preventing hiring undocumented workers. Under the Obama administration, ICE announced the supplier was the first Ohio company to partner with a program meant to “curtail the employment of unauthorized workers,” according to a 2012 news release announcing ICE’s partnership with Fresh Mark. “We are honored to be selected by ICE to participate in this program,” Fresh Mark human resources director Mark Sullivan said in the news release. “For nearly a decade, Fresh Mark has proactively partnered with the government to ensure the integrity of our workforce and the IMAGE program will be a tremendous addition to our future employee verification process.”

Under the program, called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, employers can voluntarily partner with the agency by taking steps to weed out undocumented workers. They must use the government’s E-Verify system, which checks employees’ I-9 employment eligibility status and create hiring policies.  After the June 19th raid, ICE said the company may have knowingly hired undocumented workers and many are using fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens.

Immigration officials lined up dozens of workers, many dressed in white helmets and smocks, outside the meat-processing plant in rural Ohio.  An ICE spokesman confirmed that about 60 workers at the Fresh Mark plant in Salem who were detained have been released.  Workers who are in the country legally but did not have proper documentation with them at the time of the raid were released after officials determined they are authorized to work in the United States.  ICE officials said they also released several workers for health and family reasons and other humanitarian concerns.

The remaining 86 workers detained in the raid are being held at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on Hubbard Road and the Geauga County jail while they await deportation proceedings.  The men were sent to the East Side private prison and the women were sent to Geauga County.  Sister Rene Weeks, of St. Paul Parish in Salem, said the majority of those detained in the raid were Guatemalan nationals who fled violence in that country and they comprise a large percentage of Salem’s immigrant community.  She added that those released for humanitarian reasons included parents who had children left behind after the raid as well as one woman who is several months pregnant and another who has leukemia.  “They were pretty terrified when the raid happened and relieved to be back with their families, but they are also worried about what comes next,” Sister Rene said.  Sister Rene said many of those who were released met with immigration lawyers Wednesday at St. Paul Parish.

ICE has carried out several such raids in recent months. Two weeks ago, it arrested 114 workers at a gardening company’s two Ohio locations. In April, ICE raided a meatpacking plant in rural Tennessee and arrested 97 immigrants. In January, ICE raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide, arresting 21.

 

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