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When federal immigration officials staged a massive raid on Swift & Co. last December, General Counsel Donald Wiseman wasn’t surprised. The government had been looking for illegal aliens in Swift’s workforce for months, and Wiseman knew that immigration agents were planning to show up en masse at the meat processor’s plants. But even though immigration officials haven’t filed charges against Swift-and have acknowledged that it cooperated fully on the day of the raids-Wiseman is still frustrated that they shut down all but one of the company’s seven facilities. The GC said that Swift has been working for years on ways to identify illegal aliens during its hiring process, such as participating in a government-recommended screening program. In the end, however, the company’s efforts failed to dissuade officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement from carrying out their bust. “ICE’s position seems to be that no matter what you’ve done, it’s not good enough,” said Wiseman, who has been general counsel at Greeley, Colo.-based Swift since 2003. “We believe the reason that ICE did what it did was that it wanted publicity.” Expanding the war In recent years the government has significantly expanded its war on illegal aliens. In 2002, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service made fewer than 600 arrests and brought criminal charges against only 25. (The INS was broken up into several new agencies, including ICE, in 2003.) By contrast, ICE made almost 4,400 arrests in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2006, and brought criminal charges against 716, according to agency spokesman Tim Counts. More than 1,250 workers were arrested in the Dec. 12 raid at Swift. While the majority have been charged with administrative violations for assuming the names and Social Security numbers of U.S. citizens, more than 270 face criminal charges related to identity theft and fraud. “We believe there was a better way to accomplish [the identification of these illegal workers] that would not have caused the large financial losses and disruption [that the raids did],” Wiseman said. “There were 15,000 employees, and the government had a reasonable suspicion of 3,000. Instead of working with us to identify them, they detained every worker.” Counts responds that his agency was just doing its job: “ICE did not create this problem for Swift. To ignore Swift’s illegal alien problem simply because of its size or status would have set an incredibly bad precedent.” The December raid wasn’t the first time that immigration officials had taken action against Swift. Counts said that in 1996, an INS investigation led to the arrest of more than 140 illegal aliens at a Swift plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. Two years later, an INS review of I-9 forms (which employees fill out to verify their right to work in the United States) turned up more suspected aliens at the Iowa plant and another one in Grand Island, Neb. And in 2002, Counts said, a Swift human resources employee in Worthington, Minn., was charged and convicted of unlawful employment of illegal aliens. Wiseman declined to comment on these incidents, but said that in 1998, Swift started participating in the government’s Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program. Begun by the INS and now run by Citizenship and Immigration Services, Basic Pilot allows a company to check information on an employee’s I-9 against a Social Security Administration computer database. Wiseman said that every one of Swift’s domestic hires since 1998 has received work authorization through the program. According to Counts, Basic Pilot by itself isn’t enough. “Basic Pilot was never intended as a silver bullet to magically take care of illegal aliens in the workforce,” Counts said. ICE kicked off its most recent investigation of Swift in February 2006, when it subpoenaed the I-9s of more than 2,000 workers at the Marshalltown plant. Counts said the probe was spurred by information received from illegal aliens working at Swift who had been arrested on nonimmigration-related charges, as well as from law enforcement agencies and anonymous calls to a tip line.

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