The job of determining if five poultry companies knowingly hired undocumented aliens is up to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Immigration officials, however, claim they have plenty of evidence to sustain the charges.
Unsealed warrants also hint at some of the evidence prosecutors have to work with.
U.S. Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided seven poultry plants in six Mississippi towns on Aug. 7, owned by the five companies. The agents detailed about 680 “removable aliens.”
And about 300 detainees were released by the next day for humanitarian reasons. U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst says he still cannot comment about company charges because the investigation is ongoing.
“If you look at the history of this office,” he says, “we have consistently prosecuted employers, companies and owners when the evidence has been presented to us to provide beyond a reasonable doubt that they have violated federal criminal laws.”
That leaves the 5th largest, Koch Foods, and 9th largest Peco Foods along with the smaller P H Foods, Pearl River Foods, and A&B waiting to see if criminal charges are going to follow. Federal agents likely seized computer servers along with personnel files and other documents.
In one 2018 raid, federal agents also seized more than $100,000 in cash that the company had available to pay alien workers off the books.
Once such evidence is processed, it is solely up to the U.S. Attorney’s office on how to proceed with charges.
Immigration officials acknowledged that before the raids, they were working with confidential informants and local police on jail and detention records.
Mississippi has required employers to use E-Verify, the federal employment verification system, since 2008. The system, however, cannot determine if there is the use of falsified documents.
Koch Foods and Peco Foods insist they’ve used E-Verify, as did PH Foods. Search warrants, however, said PH Foods hired people with names not processed by E-Verify.
Employers say that beyond E-Verigy, they run the federal risk prosecution if they make inquiries about the national origins that go behind documents provided by applicants.
Koch Foods paid a $500,000 fine for violating immigration laws in 2010. The penalty followed a raid on the Koch Foods plant in Fairfield, OH.
Federal officials reportedly have a confidential informer in a conversation with a human resources official who says Peco Foods “does not care” about the immigration status of a prospective employee.
Court documents released after the raid also disclose that the A&B plant in Pelahatchie, MS and PH Foods In Morton, MS, both raided Aug. 7, are owned by “Victor” Liang. After the raid, PH Foods laid off another 100 workers.
PMI Resources, a payroll company used by PH Foods and A&B, is based in Louisiana, and it does not use E-Verify. A PH Food employee turned confidential informant told federal officials the company was employing people without legal documentation.
Mexico and Guatemala are the countries of origin for most of the Mississippi detainees.
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