One of East Texas' biggest employers - and the biggest chicken provider in the country - has become the focus of a multi-state raid today.
ICE (US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) officials announced today that they raided Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states today, including the Mt. Pleasant, Texas plant, in a crackdown on a alleged scam to provide fake IDs for illegal immigrant workers. A total of 45 people were arrested at the plant in Mt. Pleasant.
The multiple-defendant indictments against the workers, handed down on April 1st, allege that each defendant obtained and used the Social Security numbers of other people in order to get jobs at Pilgrim's Pride.
45 defendants in Mt. Pleasant have been arrested on charges of False Use of A Social Security Account Number. That crime is punishable by up to five years in jail and a $200,000.00 fine.
"We will continue to aggressively prosecute all persons who take someone else's good name and credit for the purpose of working illegally in this country," said John L. Ratcliffe, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. "These federal indictments underscore our commitment to stop immigration fraud and identity theft in the American workplace."
This case is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Labor, and the Social Security Administration and is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas, with the assistance of the Office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Similar investigations and operations are being handled by United States Attorneys in the Eastern District of Arkansas, Eastern District of Tennessee, Middle District of Florida, and Northern District of West Virginia.
After the crimnal proceedings in this case are finished, anyone arrested today that is found to be in the US illegally will be turned back over to ICE and placed in deportation proceedings.
KLTV 7 News talked to Ray Atkinson, a spokesperson for Pilgrim's Pride, this morning and he confirmed to us that the Mt. Pleasant plant was indeed raided. He called the operation a "planned enforcement action" and said that Pilgrim's Pride was aware that the raid was coming.
Management at Pilgrim's Pride cooperated fully with the investigation.
Those arrested in the raid on the Mt. Pleasant poultry plant this morning have been brought by various agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella to the Tyler National Guard Armory. An ICE spokesman told KLTV 7 News' Danielle Capper that those arrested had been brought to Tyler for processing and would be appearing before a magistrate judge at Tyler's Federal Courthouse - "probably today" - to see what their status is.
Those arrested are expected to stay in Tyler overnight and possibly be transported to Dallas tomorrow after seeing the magistrate judge.