Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ICE raids Howard Industries (Laurel Leader-Call)

ICE raids HI
350 illegal immigrants suspected

By Jason Niblett,

The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed 350 people suspected as being illegal immigrants working at Howard Industries were found during a raid Monday.

There was no word if any employees of Howard Industries were arrested. Brandon A. Montgomery, a communications specialists for ICE, said the investigation is just the beginning. He said agents are just beginning their task of conducting interviews and sorting through documents. He said evidence will decide whether or not “employees, supervisors, or owners” are arrested or fined.

ICE Southern Regional Communications Director Barbara Gonzalez told the Leader-Call two federal search warrants were executed at the Howard Industries transformer plant in Laurel and at the Howard Industries headquarters at the Howard Technology Park in Ellisville. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of federal agents were at both locations. ICE would not confirm the number of agents.

“We have enough personnel to address any situation,” she said. “We do believe there are illegal immigrants here at Howard Industries.”

Ambulances were also on the scene. Gonzalez said there were no reports of injuries or medical emergencies, but the responders were on location to assist in case they were needed.

There were unconfirmed reports that employees were separated by gender and held until questioning. Gonzalez did confirm hundreds of people were questioned.

“We’re going to be working and interviewing every single individual,” she said.

Steve Dodd, an eyewitness who was at the transformer plant during the raid, said American citizens were provided blue armbands. He said the entire operation was professional.

“There was nothing cruel about it,” Dodd said. “It was a smooth operation. It was all very professional — no violence, very professional.”

Howard Industries released a statement Monday afternoon saying the company did not knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

“Today, Howard Industries was visited by the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to ascertain if all employees are U. S. citizens or otherwise legally authorized to work in the United States. Howard Industries runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs. It is company policy that it hires only U. S. citizens and legal immigrants. All Howard Industries employees should report to work Tuesday, August 26, for their regularly scheduled shift,” the press release reads.

An organization in Jackson predicted the raid Friday.

The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance released a statement warning of a massive raid “for South Mississippi.”

Executive Director Bill Chandler told the Leader-Call that the raid was very similar to one in Postville, Iowa, several months ago. The raid was made at the Agriprocessors, Inc. Kosher meatpacking plant.

“A series of preparations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the Gulf Coast has local advocates on edge about the possibility of yet another worksite raid, and yet another devastating blow to businesses, families, and communities in the name of immigration enforcement,” a statement reads.

Chandler told the Leader-Call, “It was evident ICE was around in large numbers around South Mississippi. They have conducted the same kind of attacks in Massachusetts and Iowa.”

Considering children and spouses who remain in Jones County, Chandler said the raid creates a humanitarian crisis.

“We are responding with humanitarian aid to the family members of the arrested,” he said.

This is the second federal investigation Howard Industries has faced this summer. In June, the U. S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $193,000 in penalties against Howard Industries for 54 violations of federal safety rules at the company’s two manufacturing locations in Laurel.

OSHA reported 36 serious violations and proposed $123,500 in penalties for the Pendorf Plant, which is the same location of Monday’s raid. There were 15 serious violations, with penalties of $41,000, at the Eastview plant.

Howard Industries at the time told the Leader-Call to expect a statement, but one was never released. An employee asked for more information, said the company was not aware of the OSHA violations, and said, “There will be no comment at this time, but we’ll be back in touch.”

There were also reports of raids against other industries in Jones County. However, Gonzalez said those reports were “not true.” The other Howard Industries locations in Sandersville and Mendenhall, along with other Laurel and Ellisville facilities, were not involved.

*UPDATE* Raid figure rises

The number of alleged illegal immigrants detained in a raid Monday at Howard Industries has nearly doubled, and could go higher, according to officials. They now say there are 595 suspected illegal immigrants.

"This is probably the largest single site target for law enforcement," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Communications Director Barbara Gonzalez said.

About 475 people have been transported to the ICE detention facility in Louisiana.

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