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Swift’s meat-plant employees questioned

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KAI RYSSDAL: Immigration officials raided the country’s third largest meat processing company today. Six plants in the western U.S. owned by Swift and Company were shut down after the raids. Swift hasn’t been charged with anything. Neither have the workers who were taken into custody. Not for being undocumented. But for the documents they had. From the Marketplace Americas Desk at WLRN, Dan Grech explains.

DAN GRECH: Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials arrested a number of suspected illegal immigrants who may have used stolen social security numbers to get hired. The feds raided Swift meatpacking plants in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota. The plants were shut down for the day.Jack Martin is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He says workplace raids, disruptive as they are, keep employers on their toes.

JACK MARTIN: So it’s really important that there be an effective enforcement system that creates a level playing field for all companies so that nobody is able to gain competitive advantage by hiring low wage, illegal workers.

But in a release, Swift said it’s already cracked down on undocumented workers.For nearly 10 years, the company’s been part of a federal program that screens every employee for proper documentation. Observers now wonder if Swift knew that some of its workers were using stolen identities.

Niels Frenzen is an immigration law expert at the University of Southern California. He says today’s raids highlight the predicament many American businesses face in hiring.

NIELS FRENZEN: We need to have some logical, humane change to federal immigration laws that address both the needs of workers but also address the needs of American businesses that need the workers.”

The Swift plants will reopen tomorrow. But they may be understaffed as the feds continue their investigation.

I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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