Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested nearly 100 immigrants in Tennessee on Thursday, The Washington Post reports. Civil rights advocates said it was believed to be the largest single workplace raid since the George W. Bush administration.
The sweep took place at the Southeastern Provision meat-processing plant in Grainger County, where 97 immigrants—most of whom were from Mexico—were taken into federal custody. Ten of the arrestees were booked on federal immigration charges; one individual was arrested on state charges, and the remaining 86 were arrested solely on suspicion of having illegally entered the country. ICE agents told the Post that 32 of the immigrants have been released, while the other 54 were being detained at an undisclosed location.
“Our communities have lived under intense fear since the Trump administration began, and this raid—coupled with local law enforcement involvement—will send shockwaves across the country,” Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said in a statement. “The community has shown tremendous strength in the face of this brazen attack on its members: Churches have become sanctuaries for those who feel unsafe, community leaders are speaking out against the attack, and we will continue to fight for basic, Constitutional rights for all. No one—not even the president—can take those away.”
Federal agents began investigating the company months ago after they suspected the plant’s owners were paying employees in cash. According to the Post, Southeastern Provision was withdrawing large sums of money. The plant is also being investigated for alleged tax evasion, filing fraudulent tax returns, and hiring immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally.
The company’s president and general manager, James Brantley, has not been formally charged.
The Tennessee raid occurred about three months after immigration agents targeted dozens of 7-Eleven locations across the country, resulting in multiple arrests. At the time, Derek Benner, the acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, told the Associated Press that these types of raids would become more frequent throughout 2018.
“This is what we’re gearing up for this year and what you’re going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters,” Benner said. “It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry, big medium and small. It’s going to be inclusive of everything that we see out there.”