Federal officials on Thursday announced the indictments of four poultry plant executives in Mississippi in relation to a major 2019 worksite enforcement raid that resulted in the detention of hundreds of illegal immigrants.
The four managers, supervisors and human resource personnel face charges including harboring illegal aliens, assisting in representing false citizenship and obtaining false social security cards, lying to law enforcement and identity theft.
The August 2019 raid was the largest in American history and detained 680 illegal immigrants after agents swarmed a number of agricultural processing plants — although many were later released on humanitarian grounds.
Nearly 600 ICE agents swarmed the plants in Bay Springs, Carthage, Canton, Morton, Pelahatchie and Sebastapol, surrounding the perimeters to keep workers from fleeing. None of the four executives were arrested on the day of the raids.
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said the indictments are “another step in ensuring that justice is fairly and impartially done, no matter the law-breaker.”
“The indictments unsealed today mark the beginning, not the end, of our investigations and prosecutions,” he said in a statement. “Rest assured that we will continue to pursue criminal wrongdoers and enforce our criminal laws wherever the evidence may take us.”
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matt Albence said that companies who intentionally build their business on a workforce of illegal immigrants “deprive law abiding citizens and lawful immigrants of employment opportunities, which are especially critical as our economy looks to recover from the challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Salvador Delgado-Nieves and Iris Villalon both worked at A&B Inc. Delgado-Nieves, was charged with harboring people in the U.S. illegally and assisting them with falsely presenting themselves as U.S. citizens. He was also charged with helping immigrants obtain false Social Security cards and of making false statements to law enforcement. Conviction would carry up to 74 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines.
Villalon was charged with harboring a person who was in the U.S. illegally and one count of making false statements about hiring immigrants without proper documentation. Conviction would carry up to 20 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, Hurst said.
The two others indicted worked for Pearl River Foods. Carolyn Johnson, a human resources manager, was charged with harboring people who were in the U.S. illegally, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Conviction on all charges would carry up to 84 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines, Hurst said.
Aubrey Willis, the manager of the plant, was charged with harboring people in the U.S. illegally. Conviction on all charges would carry a maximum of 50 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines, Hurst said. An indictment says both Willis and Johnson harbored illegal immigrants after the plant was raided.
Albence said the raids brought 126 indictments, 117 criminal arrests and 17 convictions, and that the investigation has not yet been completed.
The raid was also subject of intense criticism from immigration rights groups, 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls and a number of media reports focusing on the distress faced by the children of those detained.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement Thursday that he is glad the Trump administration is bringing charges against employers and plant managers.
“However, the administration still has not answered for the cruel and unnecessary family separation inflicted on hundreds of Mississippi families and how it continues to poorly treat immigrants,” Thompson said.
Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran and The Associated Press contributed to this report.