Workers rounded up from at least two of the Swift meatpacking plants that federal agents raided on Tuesday were taken to Camp Dodge, the headquarters of the Iowa National Guard. Not only are the 90 workers from the Swift plant in Marshalltown being processed in Johnston, but Mike Marty with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union says most of the two-hundred-61 workers from a plant in Grand Island, Nebraska were taken there, too.
“It’s my understanding that they rounded everybody up that was questionable and then you have to prove that you’re innocent. And you have to do that in Camp Dodge, Iowa,” Marty says. He wonders if anyone asked on the spot could prove they were a U.S. citizen. “You can show ’em a driver’s license (but) that’s not good enough,” he says. “You need a birth certificate. You need a green card. You need a resident card. You need something automatically on you.”
Greg Palmore of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says the requirement to prove citizenship or immigration status can be met. “If you?re saying you?re a United States citizen or you’re a legal permanent resident, or you’re going through some phase of relief which is seeking a benefit, bring us the appropriate documents and you can go home,” he says.
But for at least one Swift plant worker, that didn?t work. Walter Molina says he has permission to be in the country via “temporary protected” status. But he didn?t take the documentation to work with him Tuesday — something many workers don?t do, for fear the papers will be lost or stolen. His girlfriend, Betsy Calvan, who also works at Swift, says federal officials wouldn?t let her leave the plant to get the documents for Molina. They?re back together now, but only after he was brought to Iowa. The couple has now shelled out $140 for a hotel and bus tickets back to Nebraska.
The couple says officials should be more careful. Molina spoke to reporters in Spanish and his girlfriend translated: “He says they should make sure who they’re taking first, make sure that they don’t do this again to people.”
Marshalltown Mayor Gene Beach says the raid at Swift is the talk of the town.
“There’s an element that (says) ‘You know it’s about time,'” the mayor says. “There are the other elements who say: ‘Well, why’d you have to do this at Christmas time?’ and the other side comes up and says, ‘Well, yeah, there’s no good time for a raid like this.'”
Marshalltown High School student Jessica Brisson says the school was tense yesterday. “They were getting in fights about it,” she says. “Some kids were saying they were glad, and so other kids were, like, threatening them.” At the Swift plant, the company tried to carry on business as usual according to employee Oscar Gomez.
“Some people are just acting like it’s another day out here — people laughing, acting like everything’s normal, but it’s not,” he says. “You can feel the sadness.”
Employees told reporters the company had asked them to work extra hours to keep production levels at a normal pace. Some reports indicate as many as a thousand Swift workers were brought to Camp Dodge in Johnston for processing.
Governor Tom Vilsack issued a statement, calling on the federal government to provide information to the families who are trying to find out if their relative is inside Camp Dodge. Vilsack has also asked the feds to let lawyers into the detention area so they can meet with their clients, some of whom are to be charged and transferred to county jails.