FEDERAL Department of Homeland Security agents swept through Sparboe Farms in Litchfield, Minn., last week and arrested 10 workers for immigration-related violations but said the arrests were part of "a larger criminal investigation" and provided no additional details.
Sparboe, the fifth-largest commercial egg producer in the U.S., said it was cooperating with the agents.
A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the arrests were made on "administrative charges," terminology ICE uses to detain people suspected of immigration violations, such as being in the country illegally.
Two of the 10 workers arrested were released for "humanitarian reasons," the ICE spokesperson said.
In a statement, Sparboe said it has invested "significant resources" in immigration regulation compliance, including using the federally approved "e-verify" system to document the eligibility of applicants to work in the U.S.
In its statement, Sparboe said it knew of no food safety or quality issues that would have brought federal officers to its operations.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office also refused to discuss the nature of the "larger criminal investigation."
Immigration raids at meat and poultry operations were common in the mid-2000s, with ICE agents often hauling suspected illegal immigrants away from farms and plants by the busload.
One of the most visible raids was in 2008 at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, in which 389 workers were arrested for being in the U.S. illegally (Feedstuffs, May 19, 2008).
A consequential investigation led to 86 counts of fraud and violations of the Packers & Stockyards Act that were brought against Sholom Rubashkin, the company's general manager. He was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years in prison (Feedstuffs, June 28, 2010).
Agriprocessors declared bankruptcy, was sold to an investor and is now doing business as Agri Star.
The Obama Administration has shifted its immigration focus away from minor infractions toward serious felonies, such as companies engaged in abetting immigration violations and/or systematically hiring undocumented workers.
Egg industry sources explained last week that while e-verify works well, it cannot stop illegal immigrants from using fake or stolen identification. One source suggested that there may be more raids in the future.
Sparboe, founded by Bob Sparboe in 1954, produces eggs on farms in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado and markets eggs and egg products to foodservice and retail customers throughout the U.S.