Workers swept up in last December’s immigration raids at Swift meatpacking in Iowa and five other states met in Omaha on Thursday to discuss a possible lawsuit against the federal government.
The workers say their rights were violated and they suffered intimidation and humiliation. They told of being detained for hours without water or food, handcuffed, with no access to phones and no ability to contact their families.
Anna Arellanes is an American citizen who worked at the raided Swift plant in Cactus, Texas. She says the workers were treated like cattle being led to slaughter, crowded into a hot hallway shoulder-to-shoulder. "I was very, very scared that day," she says. "I remember I went home and I told my mother, ‘If this is something close to judgment day, I don’t want to stay behind.’ It was very fearful, it was very scary for me."
Another American citizen, Milena Martinez, says she was seven months pregnant when the Swift plant she worked at in Worthington, Minnesota, was raided. "I wanted to go to the restroom and they wouldn’t let me go," Martinez said, through a translator. "I had to wait four hours to be able to go to the restroom."
The United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union hosted the conference. The union’s international president Joe Hansen says the immigration agents showed excessive armed force, disregard for individual rights and a lack of concern for working families.
Fredrico Lopez worked at the raided Swift plant in Greeley, Colorado. Speaking through an interpreter, Lopez said many of the workers did not have their immigrant paperwork with them and did not know what to do. "With 2500, 3000 people all crowded together in a small room where you could feel the heat and the desperation, you can feel desperation in people’s bodies, not knowing what was going to happen and what could they do," he said.
Tim Counts, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, says the actions taken by his agency "were fully within the law." Counts says the rights of all those detained at six Swift plants last December were respected and that due process was given to everyone.
Some 1300 workers were arrested in the raids, which included 129 arrests at the Swift plant in Marshalltown. The other raided plants are located in: Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota and Utah.
Nebraska Public Radio contributed to this report.