Margery A. Beck, Associated Press, August 9, 2018
A large federal law enforcement operation conducted Wednesday targeted businesses in Nebraska and Minnesota that officials say knowingly hired — and mistreated — immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
The investigative arm of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — Homeland Security Investigations — led the operation that saw about a dozen businesses and plants raided and 17 business owners and managers indicted for fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
Of those, 14 were taken into custody Wednesday and three were still being sought. Authorities also arrested more than 130 workers at various businesses, busing them to Grand Island, Nebraska, to be questioned and processed.
Most of the arrests occurred in northern Nebraska and southern Minnesota. Several of the businesses were in O’Neill, Nebraska, a town of about 3,000 about 160 miles (260 kilometers) northwest of Omaha. Officials said they were still looking to take three owners or managers into custody as part of the operation.
Special agent in charge Tracy Cormier described the operation as one of the largest in Homeland Security Investigations’ 15-year history. Between 350 and 400 federal, state and local law enforcement officers worked together on the arrests, she said.
The focus of the operation is unusual in that it targeted business operators for arrest. Most immigration raids have targeted workers suspected of being in the country illegally.
The businesses engaged in a scheme that used fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to employ people in the country illegally, she said. The businesses used “force, fraud, coercion, threat of arrest and/or deportation” to exploit the workers, Cormier said. The business that hired out the immigrants also forced the workers to cash their paychecks with that business for an exorbitant fee, officials said, and withheld taxes from workers’ pay without paying those taxes to the government.
Also arrested were 133 workers suspected of being in the country illegally, according to ICE. Some will be issued notices to appear before an immigration judge and released, while those with criminal backgrounds will remain in ICE custody.
Civil rights organizations in Nebraska were quick to denounce Wednesday’s operation.
“The ACLU condemns this ongoing campaign of misery that targets immigrants, disrupts local businesses and separates families,” Rose Godinez, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said in a written statement released Wednesday morning after news reports of the raid at O’Neill Ventures.