APPLETON, Minn. - Multiple locations of Christensen Farms operations, accused of hiring illegal laborers, were among work sites in Minnesota and Nebraska raided by federal immigration agents Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The raids were part of a multi-state investigation into multiple agricultural-related businesses in the two states, according to a Homeland Security Investigations news release.
Also, a series of criminal arrest warrants were executed for 17 people connected to the alleged criminal conspiracy to exploit undocumented workers for "profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering" in Minnesota and Nebraska, said the news release.
Christensen Farms locations served with warrants include its company headquarters in Sleepy Eye, Minn., its truck wash facility in Appleton and a producer plant in Atkinson, Neb.
Christensen Farms is one the largest hog producers in the United States.
"The job magnet in the United States is primarily what draws illegal aliens across our borders," Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier of Homeland Security Investigations said in a press release. "This HSI-led criminal investigation has shown that these targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors.
"Specifically, these illegal aliens were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an unlawful remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though this money was never paid to the government, and were coerced to remain quiet about this criminal activity."
A Christensen Farms spokesperson told the Mankato Free Press the company was cooperating with officials, and that the company was "unaware of any wrongdoing."
Christensen Farm has nearly 1,000 employees and 1,500 contract partners across the Midwest, according to the Free Press. The company markets nearly 3 million hogs, according to its corporate website.
Agents from ICE also administratively arrested 133 people for illegally working in the U.S., according to the news release.
Those who remain in ICE custody after being administratively arrested on immigration violations will be transported to a nearby processing facility and placed in removal proceedings, according to the news release. Detained workers will be held in facilities in Minnesota and Nebraska while awaiting removal proceedings.
The operation was one of the largest in HSI's 15-year history, Cormier said. More than 350 federal, state and local law enforcement officers worked together on the action, she said.
The enforcement action is part of a 15-month Homeland Security investigation based on evidence that these companies allegedly knowingly hired undocumented immigrants at their facilities, and that many of these workers are using fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens, the ICE news release said.
This HSI operation is part of the Trump administration's immigration enforcement actions against employers across the country.