Workers who were detained during the first large-scale workplace immigration raid under the Trump administration filed a class action lawsuit against the government on Thursday. The raid, which took place in April 2018, decimated a meat processing plant in Bean Station, a rural community outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.
The raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents resulted in the detention of almost 100 primarily Mexican workers. The suit alleges violation of the workers’ rights against illegal seizures and to equal protection under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
This raid was a response to a criminal investigation of the family-owned plant for tax evasion, filing false tax returns, and hiring undocumented immigrants. The owners pled guilty to the charges in August 2018.
The suit alleges that, even though federal officers only had a search warrant to investigate the owners’ tax evasion, ICE agents used the warrant as a pretext to carry out a discriminatory mass immigration enforcement. Officers allegedly raided the plant and detained every worker in the plant who looked Latino, regardless of their actual citizenship or documentation.
In fact, many of the workers weren’t asked about documentation until hours into the raid, at which point many had already been handcuffed, transported to a new location, and held in isolation, unable to contact family members or attorneys. At the same time, white workers were neither detained nor questioned about their documentation and were allegedly permitted to leave.
Two of the named plaintiffs also allege that they were assaulted by ICE officers, including one plaintiff who was punched in the face and another plaintiff who had a gun pointed to his head without reason. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages due to the governments’ violation of their rights.
However, the impact of the raid extends beyond the fate of the detained workers or the owners of the plant. According to Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“What happened in East Tennessee was law enforcement overreach, plain and simple. We as a nation have a shared set of ideals, rooted in the Bill of Rights: we have a right to be free from racial profiling and unlawful arrests. If we are not willing to uphold those ideals for everyone in this country, then we are all at risk of losing our rights.”
History has taught us that these sorts of immigration raids will do little to deter unauthorized immigration. Raids have devastating effects on families, businesses, and local economies. They also generate trauma in children who are separated from their parents. Reports indicate that a day after the Bean Station raid, at least 600 students did not show up for school. Another negative outcome is that these tactics make immigrant communities less safe. In communities where crackdowns take place, residents are less likely to cooperate with the police or report crimes for fear of being arrested or deported.
Raids not only affect the social fabric of communities, but their economies as well. In Tennessee, immigrant-led households paid $1.5 billion in federal taxes and $493.9 million in state and local taxes in 2014 alone. If immigrants are unable to go to work for fear of being apprehended and deported, their economic contributions are greatly diminished.
As the Trump administration pursues its strategy of spreading fear throughout immigrant communities, more large-scale worksite raids like Bean Station’s are a real possibility. The unfortunate truth is that the administration is willing to sacrifice families, communities, and local economies throughout the country in its quest for greater levels of immigration enforcement.