An immigration raid this week on a Fresh Del Monte Produce processing plant indicates that federal officials are continuing their campaign to crack down on the industry's use of illegal labour.
In a statement Del Monte confirmed that the raid of its Portland, Oregon plant on 12 June and claimed it "has been advised" that it is not a current target of the investigation.
The raid and subsequent arrests of 170 employees shows the dangers of using a third-part firm to staff food production facilities. The food sector is one of the largest users of temporary labor and has been a particular target of similar crackdowns on illegal labor.
Recent raids on Tyson, Swift & Co. and Smithfield have highlighted the problem in the industry.
In the Fresh Del Monte raid federal agents also searched two Portland offices of American Staffing Resources, the company that hired workers for the processor, the company stated.
About 170 employees were taken into custody and more arrests are likely, according to a statement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE agents executed arrest warrants and search warrants this morning at three Portland locations as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged criminal violations by employees ASR.
As part of the criminal investigation, a federal grand jury in Portland has returned indictments against three unnamed individuals alleging immigration, document fraud, and identity theft offenses, the ICE stated.
The names of the defendants are not being released pending their arrests.
The searches occurred at two local offices of American Staffing Resources, Inc., one at 8926 North Lombard Street and one located inside of the Fresh Del Monte plant at 9243 North Rivergate Boulevard in Portland.
ICE also executed a separate search warrant at the Fresh Del Monte office within the plant.
The production workers at Fresh Del Monte are actually employees of American Staffing Resources, Inc, the ICE stated.
"The premises of the businesses would contain evidence of the production and distribution of forged documents and of the employment of illegal aliens," the ICE stated.
About 90 per cent of American Staffing's employees were using social security numbers that belonged to other persons or were made up, the ICE alleged.
"Some of the individuals using those Social Security numbers apparently have criminal records, have previously been deported, or are wanted on warrants of deportation," the ICE alleged.
ICE began the undercover operation in January this year at American Staffing Resources and Del Monte's premises.
"During the course of that operation, the undercover informant openly discussed with managers at both Del Monte and American Staffing Resources, Inc. that he was not legally in the United States and did not have the proper identification to work," the ICE alleged.
"An employee of American Staffing Resources, Inc. provided him with a counterfeit Social Security card, and later provided him with counterfeit social security cards and counterfeit resident alien cards for others."
Based on the agent's affidavit, the magistrate judge authorized ICE and social security agents to search for evidence of federal crimes that included the hiring illegal aliens, harboring illegal aliens, encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the US, identity theft; immigration document fraud, and Social Security fraud.
In a separate, simultaneous action, ICE also obtained court authorisation to search the Del Monte premises for illegal aliens.
The workers are being interviewed in Portland by ICE staff and other federal officials.
"Today's enforcement action is part of ICE's continued efforts to investigate employers who facilitate the hiring of undocumented workers," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Seattle. "No employer, regardless of industry or location is immune from complying with the nation's laws."
A bill on immigration and labour is currently winding its way through the US Senate as legislators attempt to both crack down on the problem yet provide ways for processors and others to access cheap workers.
The legislation would offer legal status to 12 million undocumented immigrants. It would also expand a guest-worker program. Employers would also have a means for verifying the legal status of workers, which would absolve them of any liability if illegal employees are subsequently found on their sites.