Nearly 300 people were arrested Wednesday in immigration and identity theft raids at Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants in five states.
More than 100 people were arrested on immigration violations in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Moorefield, W.Va., with 45 arrests in Mount Pleasant, Texas, on charges of false use of Social Security numbers.
More than 25 people face administrative charges of immigration violations in Live Oak, Fla. They will also face identity theft or document fraud charges. More than 20 were arrested in Batesville, Ark., on federal warrants for alleged document fraud or identity theft.
"We knew in advance and cooperated fully," said Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for the Pittsburg, Texas, company. Pilgrim’s Pride faces no charges, he said.
The raids were part of a long-term investigation, officials said. Plants were raided in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Batesville, Ark., Live Oak, Fla., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Moorefield, W.Va., authorities said.
A spokeswoman in Atlanta said the company’s Gainesville plant was not involved in the Wednesday events.
"All of Pilgrim’s Pride’s U.S. locations, including those visited by ICE today, voluntarily participate in E-Verify, which determines employment eligibility for all new hires," Atkinson said.
E-Verify was formerly known as the Basic Pilot/Employment Eligibility Verification Program.
In addition to a processing plant and a hatchery in Gainesville, the company operates in Canton, Carrollton, Dalton, Douglas, Ellijay and two plants in Athens. The company also has a prepared foods plant in Elberton.
Atkinson said the company went to ICE agents with information about identity theft at the Arkansas plant.
The poultry raids were the largest of several immigration enforcement actions taken across the country Wednesday.
Authorities arrested at least 45 illegal immigrants during early morning raids in western New York, Bradford, Pa.; Mentor, Ohio; Wheeling and New Martinsville, W.Va.; and Georgia. Authorities said the workers were forced to staff Mexican restaurants for long hours with little pay to work off smuggling fees and rent.
In Atlanta, a federal grand jury indicted 10 people from suburban Atlanta employment agencies on charges they placed illegal immigrants in jobs at Chinese restaurants and warehouses in six states. The agencies allegedly developed a network to "recruit and exploit" undocumented workers, said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Atlanta.
The charges are not related to immigration raids at Pilgrim’s Pride plants.