Raid leads to more than 100 arrests at plant

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

SPRINGFIELD — Federal immigration agents raided a poultry plant Tuesday morning and arrested more than 100 workers who are believed to be illegal immigrants.

Most of those arrested at a George’s processing plant in rural Butterfield were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said Pete Baird, an agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations office in Kansas City.

The arrests were part of a probe into identity theft and false documents, including stolen Social Security numbers, allegedly used by illegal immigrants, Baird said.

Three people pleaded guilty this year to Social Security fraud as part of the same investigation, and one person has been indicted, Baird said.

The arrested workers are being taken to detention facilities in Kansas City, St. Louis and Wichita, Kan.

“These work site enforcement actions help reduce the job magnet that encourages aliens to enter the country illegally,” Baird said.

Several workers were released because they are the sole caregiver of a child, Baird said. They will be required to appear later for a court hearing, he said.

George’s is a regional poultry processing company based in northwest Arkansas. Several hundred people worked at the Butterfield plant in southwest Missouri, authorities said.

The plant manager’s office referred reporters to corporate headquarters in Rogers, Ark., for comment. A spokesman at George’s Processing Inc. could not immediately be reached for comment.

ICE spokesman Tim Counts said no charges have been filed against George’s and declined to

say whether the company knew it was hiring illegal immigrants.

Federal agents have conducted several mass arrests since the April 2006 raids at pallet-maker IFCO Systems at 40 sites nationwide.

There have also been large raids at meatpacker Swift & Co., poultry plant Crider Inc. and leather factory Michael Bianco Inc. Nearly 3,000 suspected illegal workers have been arrested in dozens of states in all. There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Social service advocates said the March arrests at the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford, Mass., created a humanitarian crisis, with some children left with no one to care for them.

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