Six hundred and eighty workers from seven poultry processing plants across Mississippi were arrested by ICE in what was the largest workplace raid in a decade. Raids of this size require complex logistics and months of preparation. This raid has been in the planning stages for a year. “Sources close to the Department of Homeland Security said they recognized that the optics were difficult following the El Paso shooting. But preparation for the operation had been underway, with hundreds of government operatives flown in days ago.”
Beyond the disruptions in the plants, the employers may be subject to civil and criminal fines and penalties if they are found to have knowingly hired undocumented workers. One company’s spokesman stated that the poultry processing industry does everything it can to ensure its workforce is legal, including using E-Verify. Of course, E-Verify is not perfect. Employees can be using others’ identities – including those of dead citizens and even of their own U.S. citizen children. The government does not expect employers to be forensic experts on document fraud.
Losing so many workers will affect production at these plants. The United States consumes more chicken than any other country – 93.5 pounds of broilers per capita in 2018. Mississippi is one of the top five broiler-producing states. One plant employee noted: “[w]ithout [the workers] here, how will you get your chicken?”
The Mississippi raids come on the heels of a surge in I-9 notices of investigation — 3,000 were sent to employers in July 2019. And that was proceeded by a surge in No Match Letters sent to employers during the spring, as well as other large-scale ICE raids around the country.
In this atmosphere, employer preparation is key to minimizing business disruptions.