Special agents from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed a criminal search warrant late Tuesday at Fresh Mark in Salem, Ohio, in addition to federal document search warrants at three other Fresh Mark locations in northern Ohio. During the search warrant execution, authorities identified 146 Fresh Mark employees working at the Salem meat processor who were subject to arrest for immigration violations.
ICE said the enforcement action is part of a year-long, ongoing HSI investigation based on evidence that Fresh Mark may have knowingly hired illegal aliens at its meat processing and packaging facility and that many of these aliens are utilizing fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens.
"Unlawful employment is one of the key magnets drawing illegal aliens across our borders," said Steve Francis, HSI special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio. "Businesses who knowingly harbor and hire illegal aliens as a business model must be held accountable for their actions."
Fresh Mark is a member in ICE’s IMAGE program (which stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government & Employers). However, IMAGE members are not immune to ICE scrutiny or prosecution for workforce compliance violations.
Fresh Mark is a major supplier of bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs and lunch meat carrying the Sugardale and Superior labels. The company employs more than 1,000 people in multiple plants.
In the context of any enforcement action, ICE utilizes prosecutorial discretion on cases involving humanitarian concerns, such as health or family considerations. Accordingly, during the June 19 action, several individuals were processed and released from custody the same day as a result of humanitarian considerations.
Aliens who are being detained will be transported to a nearby processing facility and placed in removal proceedings. They will be detained in facilities in Michigan and Ohio while awaiting removal proceedings.
Eric Mittenthal, spokesperson for the North American Meat Institute, said, "Maintaining a legal workforce is a key priority in the meat industry and the Meat Institute works with members to utilize every tool available, including E-Verify, IMAGE, and state based programs to try to ensure workers are properly screened before hiring. Immigration raids on plants are disruptive to business and we believe it is preferable for ICE to work cooperatively with companies who participate in the employment verification systems available to them."
The June 19 raid is the second major raid in Ohio in recent weeks. On June 5, an estimated 114 workers were arrested at an Ohio gardening and landscaping company. In the raid, ICE officials reviewed 313 employee records and found that 123 were suspicious.
In April, federal officials arrested 97 immigrants at a meat processing plant in rural Tennessee. Ten people were arrested on federal immigration charges, one person was arrested on state charges and 86 immigrants were detained for being in the country illegally. The raid on Southeastern Provision in Bean Station, Tenn., followed arrests at 7-Eleven stores and other workplaces nationwide.