Less than two weeks after the Bush administration announced a crackdown on illegal immigration, federal agents raided the Smithfield Packing plant in Bladen County, as well as workers’ homes. On Aug. 22, as part of “Operation Namesake,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested 28 Hispanic men and women on charges of aggravated identity theft, a felony, and other immigration violations, including falsifying a visa.
If convicted, the individuals face, among other penalties, a sentence of two years in jail, a $250,000 fine or both.
It is illegal to use other persons’ Social Security numbers to apply for jobs and file tax returns. But unlike typical identity theft, these phony filers pay into Social Security yet can’t collect benefits. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Service issued 1.5 million special tax-identification numbers last year, no questions asked. That lets illegal immigrants comply with tax laws while the government collects the money.
On Aug. 10, the Bush administration announced a crackdown against employers who ignore warnings by the Department of Homeland Security, which is over ICE, that a worker’s Social Security number might be fake. Companies have 90 days to resolve the matter or fire the worker, or face criminal prosecution.
The raids were “terrifying” to Smithfield’s Hispanic workers, legal and illegal, says Libby Manly of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Most of those arrested were asleep at home until jolted awake by “the knock on their door,” she said. An ICE raid in January was limited to the plant during working hours.