- Four managers at two Mississippi poultry plants were indicted on federal charges connected to major immigration raids last year, the Clarion Ledger reported. The charges, unsealed Thursday, were filed in a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Mississippi.
- The indictments came almost exactly one year after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided seven work sites in six cities across Mississippi, arresting roughly 680 undocumented workers. At the time, officials said it was the biggest single-state workplace enforcement action in U.S. history.
- The indictments charged Salvador Delgado-Nieves and Iris Villalon, who worked at A&B Inc., a plant in Pelahatchie, as well as Carolyn Johnson and Aubrey "Bart" Willis, who worked for Pearl River Foods in Carthage, the newspaper reported. Charges against company owners were not announced.
The raids have resulted in 126 indictments, 117 criminal arrests and 73 convictions, according to the Associated Press. But these four indictments are the first for company managers or supervisors at the plants.
Advocates and lawyers told the Clarion Ledger there is a stark contrast between the punishment facing workers compared to the top executives at these poultry processing companies who reportedly hired hundreds of immigrants that were not authorized to work and profited off of them. Other companies targeted in the raids included Koch Foods, Peco Foods and PH Food. However, if the crackdown on immigration within these plants leads to more indictments for executives that could push them to change how these facilities hire employees.
After the raids in 2019, National Chicken Council head Mike Brown told President Donald Trump and congressional leaders that companies need better ways to confirm who is legally authorized to work. At the time, Brown said loopholes allow workers to submit documents that can be falsified.
Each of the four managers face years in prison and large fines if convicted. Delgado-Nieves was charged with harboring people in the U.S. illegally, as well as helping them falsely present themselves as U.S. citizens and obtain false Social Security cards. A conviction could carry up to 74 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines. Villalon also was charged with harboring a person who was in the U.S. illegally and making false statements about hiring immigrants without documentation.
For the Pearl River Foods managers, Johnson was charged with harboring people who were in the U.S. illegally, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, which could result in up to 84 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines. Willis was charged with harboring people in the U.S. illegally. Villalon, Johnson and Willis have pled not guilty, AP reported.
These weren't the first chicken executives indicted this year. In June, several executives were indicted for conspiracy to fix chicken prices. The Justice Department's investigation into the chicken industry was disclosed last year when it intervened in a major price-fixing lawsuit filed in 2016. Soon after the indictments, Tyson Foods announced it was fully cooperating with the DOJ's investigation.
The poultry industry also is facing another major challenge this year keeping its workforce safe amid the pandemic. When coronavirus started to spread, meat and poultry plants became hotspots for the coronavirus with thousands of workers getting sick. Many facilities temporarily shuttered plants to deep clean and alter operations.
Now, most processing plants are back to normal operations and some are trying to make up for lost time with increased line speeds. However, some members of Congress and unions say that is unsafe to workers and have proposed legislation and filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Agriculture Department over the issue.