Raid on Portland plant uncovers illegal workers

Raid on Portland plant uncovers illegal workers »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Federal agents on Tuesday raided the offices of a Portland food processing plant suspected of employing hundreds of illegal workers who used Social Security numbers that belonged to other people or were made up.

More than 165 workers were detained to be processed for possible deportation, officials said, and three people were indicted on immigration, illegal documents and identity theft charges.

Portland Mayor Tom Potter criticized the raids. The three arrests were understandable, he said, but "to go after local workers who are here to support their families while filling the demands of local businesses for their labor is bad policy."

According to an affidavit filed by Maximillian Trimm, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, only 48 of nearly 600 employees at the Fresh Del Monte Produce fruit and vegetable processing plant had valid Social Security numbers.

An official at Fresh Del Monte Produce Co. headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla., said the company could not comment until federal investigators provide it with more information.

The three indicted were Jose de Jesus Zarazua-Lopez, accused of re-entering the United States illegally after being convicted of heroin charges and deported to Mexico; Jose Dejesus Buenrostro, accused of encouraging an illegal immigrant; and Margarita Amezcua-Salvador, accused of possessing counterfeit alien registration documents, identity theft, selling a Social Security card, and encouraging an illegal immigrant.

The raid at American Staffing Resources Inc. offices at the plant at 9243 N. Rivergate Boulevard was based on an investigation by ICE and the Social Security Administration that began in January, officials said.

Separate American Staffing offices also were searched at 8926 N. Lombard St., along with a Fresh Del Monte office, officials said.

A federal judge authorized agents to search for evidence of violations such as hiring illegal aliens, identity theft and Social Security fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland.

Federal prosecutors said that 20 of the Social Security numbers being misused belonged to people older than 60, and that 29 belonged to dead people.

CAUSA Oregon, an immigration rights group, called the raids inhumane.

"The Del Monte workers and their families are an integral part of the Oregon community and economy, and our immigration policy must reflect this reality," the group said in a statement.

Potter spokesman John Doussard said the city's Police Bureau had been given a heads-up about the raids but did not participate. Potter said in a statement that a city crisis response team would help the families of the workers.

Potter has been at odds with federal security officials before. In 2005, he and other City Council members voted to remove Portland police from a terrorism task force because the FBI refused to give him the security clearance he said he needed for full oversight of city officers.

Doussard said Potter's criticism Tuesday wasn't related to the 2005 decision.

Authorities created a 24-hour toll-free hotline for family members of unauthorized workers who were arrested in Tuesday's operations. Operators can answer questions about detention status and the removal process. The number is (866) 341-3858.

To read a Willamette Week in-depth report on the Portland Del Monte plant, click here

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)