Federal agents swept through a chicken processing plant Tuesday, detaining more than 300 suspected illegal immigrants, sending panicked workers running and screaming through the hallways. Worried relatives collected outside, fearful their loved ones would be deported.
Police and agents during a shift change ordered all workers at the House of Raeford’s Columbia Farms to show identification, according to officials and witnesses. The business had been under scrutiny for months and the raid comes on the heels of even larger roundups at plants across the country.
Immigration officials kept the workers inside, spending most of the morning trying to figure out how many are in the country illegally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said.
The number could be substantial. A recent review found that immigration paperwork for more than 775 of 825 workers contained false information, McDonald said. Immigration agents scoured the plant for paperwork and other information for the investigation.
House of Raeford processes chickens and turkeys in eight plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan. A sales manager at the Greenville plant referred questions to the company’s Rose Hill, N.C., headquarters, where a woman answering the phone said there was no immediate comment.
Federal prosecutors and immigration agents have been investigating the plant’s hiring practices for several months. Eleven supervisors and the plant’s human resources director have been charged, most accused of falsifying documents. Seven have pleaded guilty, three are awaiting trial and two have fled, McDonald said.
U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins wouldn’t say whether other plants or executives were being investigated.