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Big Minnesota pork producer ‘surprised’ by immigration raids

August 9, 2018

A spokesperson for a southern Minnesota pork producer said Thursday that the company was “surprised and disappointed” that immigration officers raided three of its work sites — two in Minnesota — for allegedly hiring and mistreating workers suspected of being in the country illegally.

“We were surprised and disappointed to learn that one of our third party vendors is not in compliance with immigration policies,” said Amber Portner, a spokesperson for Christensen Farms, based in Sleepy Eye, Minn. “At Christensen Farms, we have an expectation that all of partners and third party vendors uphold the same high standards as our company.”

Christensen Farms was one of about a dozen businesses raided by federal immigration officers Wednesday.

The operation was led by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and targeted agricultural firms in Minnesota and Nebraska accused of exploiting workers for profit.

Christensen Farms is one of the largest pork producers in the country, with nearly 1,000 employees and firms in several Midwest states. Search warrants were served at the company’s Sleepy Eye headquarters, as well as locations in Appleton, Minn., and Atkinson, Neb.

Portner told the Associated Press that the company was cooperating with ICE and that she knew of no arrests made at company locations Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday, Portner said company officials “value our diverse workforce and those that work hard every day to put food on the table here in the U.S., and across the globe.”

In all, authorities issued arrest warrants for 133 workers suspected of being in the country illegally in Minnesota, Nebraska and Nevada, according to ICE, in addition to 17 individuals connected to the alleged conspiracy.

“These targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers and cheating their business competitors,” said Tracy Cormier, the special agent in charge of the operation.

ICE said the operation was part of a 15-month investigation of companies accused of employing immigrants who come to the country illegally.

“These illegal aliens were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though this money was never paid to the government and were coerced to remain quiet about this criminal activity,” an ICE news release said.

Those arrested were placed in custody until their cases are processed. Some will get notices to appear before an immigration judge and released, while others will stay in ICE facilities until court proceedings.

Immigration attorneys in Minnesota were still assessing the operation on Thursday, and the majority of the ICE arrests are expected to have occurred in Nebraska.

John Cselovszki, superintendent of Sleepy Eye Public Schools, said he was unaware of any previous ICE activity in the town during his 10 years working for the district. Though school is not in session, Cselovszki also said Thursday that school officials had not identified any families as being affected by the immigration arrests.

“There is nothing that we have heard, at least internally, here in the school setting that anybody has been affected,” Cselovszki said.

Sleepy Eye is a city of about 3,500 residents, 110 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. Roughly 15 percent of the town’s 3,500 residents are Hispanic, and Cselovszki said the district employed a bilingual liaison who is prepared to serve students or families who come forward.

Brad Sigal, an activist from the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, called the raid “cruel and unnecessary.”

“You can’t just look at the Trump presidency and see this as an isolated case — that suddenly he cares about the rights of workers,” he said. “This is just one more attack on the workers, whose lives are going to be dramatically worsened by this.”

Third party vendors

A federal indictment returned by a Nebraska grand jury last month and unsealed Wednesday accused three people charged with setting up a business intended to provide “unlawful employment to aliens” in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada.

The charges identified the third party vendors as JP and Sons, LLC, and J Green Valley, LLC, and said available jobs were advertised on Facebook alongside the phone number of defendant Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado.

Sanchez Delgado and Antonio De Jesus Castro — also named as helping operate the business — were accused of not verifying the identities of workers supplied to companies like Christensen Farms and of failing to complete legally required paperwork before placing the workers in jobs at the companies.

The co-defendants also allegedly used different names and social security numbers for the workers “in order to conceal the aliens’ identities and immigration status,” according to the indictment.

Staff Writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report. Katie Galioto • 612-673-4706

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