A national commission investigating immigration raids at Swift meatpacking plants held a hearing in Des Moines Tuesday. Former Governor Tom Vilsack questioned plant workers and their families along with immigrant advocates. Hundreds of workers were detained at Swift plants in Marshalltown, Iowa and elsewhere in December of 2006 following an investigation into the use of stolen identities by illegal immigrants.
Vilsack, who is on the commission, claims the raids violated constitutional protections against search and seizure. Vilsack said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents, who were heavily armed, entered the Swift Plant and demanded all employees be placed in a holding area.
Marshalltown Swift plant worker Deborah Campbell described her detention. "We were questioned. My group was then walked around the plant to an outbuilding. There were armed agents all along the way," Campbell said.
Teenaged Latinos from Marshalltown told of being separated from their parents and left alone to care for young siblings. A teenaged Latino, identified only as Diego, told of a confusing day not knowing the location of friends and loved ones. "It turns out my uncle had been detained and other people that I knew had been arrested and taken by busses to Camp Dodge. At the time, I still had no idea what happened to my mother. All my brothers and sisters were already home. They told me that their friends at school were missing," Diego said.
Vilsack questioned a Des Moines immigration attorney about the constitutional issues in the raids. He said heavily armed immigration agents who came to the Marshalltown plant detained all employees there, not just those named in the warrant: "All of this was based on a civil warrant, as opposed to a criminal warrant, correct?" Vilsack asked. "That’s correct," the attorney answered. Vilsack continued, "Those who were detained, were detained in a military facility under armed guard and denied access to council for an extended period of time."
Immigration officials say their procedures for questioning workers have been upheld by the courts and new guidelines have been issued to ensure agents in the future act quickly to identify detainees. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has sued the federal government to prevent similar raids in the future. The commission will make recommendations for reforms to Congress later this summer.