A federal raid on a large North Portland food processing plant Tuesday ended in the arrests of 167 workers, intensifying Oregon's immigration debate, tearing apart families, unnerving employers and sparking new calls for U.S. leaders to rewrite the nation's immigration laws.Staffing agency supplies phony documents.
An estimated 160 federal agents swept into Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and the firm that supplied its workers, American Staffing Resources, arresting three managers and locking up most of the arrested workers in a federal detention facility, where they face possible deportation.
The action was part of a six-month criminal investigation into the North Carolina-based employment agency, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement accuses of conspiring with Fresh Del Monte to hire and employ undocumented workers. Federal authorities allege that nine out of 10 employees hired by the staffing company used Social Security numbers that were fictitious or belonged to other people.
The criminal case began shortly after Christmas, when immigration agents, operating on tips from the public, sent an informant to apply for work at Fresh Del Monte's plant on North Rivergate Boulevard.While a few low level mangers were arrested I can't believe that upper level mangers at American Staffing Resources or executives of Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. didn't know what was going on - but they will not be punished - it will stop with the low level Hispanic managers. The current laws are not effective as long as the corporations and their executives are not held accountable.
The informant told a produce manager that he was born in Mexico and had no legal documentation to work in the United States. The manager pointed him to the nearby office of American Staffing Resources, according to a federal search warrant affidavit. There, wearing an audio recording device, the informant began gathering information that culminated in Tuesday's arrests.
In the early months of this year, according to the affidavit, managers told the informant he could find phony identification on the streets of Woodburn. One manager eventually sold the informant a Social Security card, the government alleges.
A joint investigation by immigration and Social Security Administration agents found that during one stretch last year, American Staffing Resources had employed 596 workers. Only 48 of them had valid Social Security numbers, according to the affidavit.
Some workers have criminal records, face deportation warrants or have been deported previously, justice officials said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department indicted staffing firm managers Margarita Amezcua-Salvador, Jose Dejesus Buenrostro and Jose De Jesus Zarazua-Lopez for alleged roles in the scheme and accused them of immigration crimes, document fraud and identity theft, according to federal prosecutors.
Tuesday morning, agents arrested Amezcua-Salvador and Dejesus Buenrostro in Portland and Zarazua-Lopez in Fresno, Calif. They detained 167 Fresh Del Monte workers under administrative arrest, accusing them of being in the country illegally.
Around noon Tuesday, about a half-dozen federal agents hauled boxes of documents out of American Staffing Resources' office in Portland's St. Johns neighborhood. A "closed" sign hung on the office door, and the shades were fully drawn on the agency's windows.