Swift & Company plants in Cactus, TX; Grand Island, NE; Greeley, CO; Hyrum, UT; Marshalltown, IA; and Worthington, MN; were raided by federal agents this week. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested a total of 1,282 people -- 1,217 on immigration charges and 65 on identity theft crimes. No charges were filed against Greeley-based Swift.

ICE says the operation is part of a worksite-enforcement probe that's identified a large identity theft scheme that's victimized large numbers of U.S. citizens and lawful residents.

News reports said the arrested workers were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff says the investigation is continuing into several groups that may have sold identity documents to illegal immigrants.

The raids followed a 10-month investigation into illegal immigrants suspected of buying or stealing other people's identities to secure U.S. jobs, reports the StarTribune.com. The scheme may have had hundreds victims, officials said.

Immigration officials last month informed Swift it would remove unauthorized workers on Dec. 4, but Swift asked a federal judge to stop the action, arguing it would cause "substantial and irreparable injury" to its business, the Star Tribune reports. But the judge rejected Swift's request last week, clearing the way for Tuesday's raids. The six plants represent all of Swift's beef operations and 77% of its pork processing capacity.

In a news release by Swift & Company following the ICE raid, president and CEO Sam Rovit protested the government actions and said the company has never knowingly hired illegal workers and doesn't condone the employment of unauthorized workers.

"Since the inception of the Basic Pilot program in 1997, every single one of Swift's new domestic hires has duly completed I-9 forms and has received work authorization through the government's Basic Pilot program," the release said.

The Basic Pilot program is a voluntary, online verification system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of new hires by checking the personal information they provide against federal databases.
-- Joe Roybal