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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Thursday, September 06, 2018

Immigration raid targeting employer near Paris nets 160 suspected undocumented workers

Dallas Morning News
By Kevin Krause and Dianne Solis
August 28, 2018

PARIS — Federal agents raided a northeast Texas manufacturing plant Tuesday and detained about 160 alleged undocumented immigrant workers as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into a company that makes vehicle trailers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Dallas said the operation was thought to be one of the largest of its kind nationally in a decade.

The raid was part of a criminal investigation into the Sumner-based company Load Trail for illegally employing foreign workers — a rare enforcement move reserved for repeat violators.

Katrina Berger, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Dallas, said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that while the primary focus was the criminal investigation, “We can’t turn a blind eye to those illegal workers.”

Berger said the message for other employers who engage in illegal hiring is: “We’re watching. And we’re coming.”

Sumner is an unincorporated community of fewer than 100 residents about 100 miles northeast of downtown Dallas and 12 miles west of Paris.

Load Trail representatives couldn’t be reached for comment.

Load Trail began as a family-owned business in 1996 and has grown to employ more than 500 people on its 100-acre site, according to the company’s website.

The company paid a $445,000 fine in 2014 for hiring undocumented immigrants to work in its plant, according to an ICE report. “The company employed more than 179 unauthorized workers” at the time, the report said.

Dennis Perry, a $16-an-hour Load Trail factory worker, said armed agents came in from “every corner” right after his break in the first shift. “They just came and raided from every entrance there was.”

Then, he said, “they drew their guns and told everyone to hit the ground.”

Some workers went running. They were tackled, Perry said. A few workers hid by shelves but were quickly discovered. All were searched for weapons and drugs, Perry said.

As part of a criminal search warrant, agents questioned employees and seized employment documents. Berger said agents were told that many of the alleged undocumented workers were using fraudulent identification documents.

Many workers were “administratively arrested” and processed for immigration violations. Berger said no criminal arrests were made Tuesday.

Suspected undocumented immigrants, mostly men, were issued notices to appear in immigration court for civil proceedings. Many were expected to be released until those hearings.

The company’s owners face the possibility of criminal indictment.

In the past, employers deemed “abusive and exploitative” have been charged by ICE with alien smuggling, alien harboring, document fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Berger said such illegal hiring practices give companies an unfair advantage, subject workers to low wages and potentially dangerous conditions, and take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

More than 300 federal agents and support staffers, including translators, were part of Tuesday’s operation, which included Air and Marine Operations, an agency within U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Local law enforcement officials were not asked to participate.

One year ago, ICE’s acting director at the time, Thomas Homan, told The Dallas Morning News that the immigration crackdown supported by President Donald Trump would make employers its next target.

“You are going to see a lot more worksite enforcement this year,” Homan said. “We will take action against those employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.”

Homan promised that ICE was “firing up” worksite enforcement, saying, “We need to take the magnet away.”

It has been a violation of federal law since 1986 for employers to knowingly hire people who are in the U.S. without employment authorization. But that provision hasn’t been enforced with the same vigor the immigration agency uses against undocumented immigrants.

Employers must verify the identity and work eligibility of everyone they hire, using what’s known as an I-9 form.

Many undocumented immigrant employees use false documents or Social Security numbers that belong to other people, a practice that Berger said can wreck the victims’ lives.

Employers have long argued that that makes it hard for them to self-police and shows that they didn’t “knowingly” hire an unauthorized worker.

Berger said agents were told that many of Load Trail’s alleged undocumented workers were using fraudulent identification documents. She said such employees often use stolen IDs.

Berger said investigations usually begin with tips. If the information checks out, ICE conducts a worksite inspection in an attempt to verify I-9 documentation, she said.

If the audit turns up discrepancies, a company has the opportunity to correct problems by firing undocumented workers, Berger said.

ICE can fine companies for violations or win federal forfeiture judgments against them.

Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a suburban tree-trimming company in Philadelphia, was ordered to pay a record $95 million last year for hiring workers who were in the U.S. illegally.

If an employer is a repeat violator, ICE can launch a criminal investigation.

Berger said Load Trail is suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.

Company donations

Cornelio Thiessen, 48, is listed in corporate records as president and secretary of the company.

Last Wednesday, Myparistexas.com published a story about how Load Trail supports local police. The website ran a photo of the family owners posing with Paris officers.

“While Load Trail has already gone above and beyond donating much-needed supplies to local law enforcement, this morning they continued to show their support donating 55 tourniquets to the Paris Police Department,” the article said.

Load Trail also donated a 16-foot trailer to the Paris Police Officers Association, the article said.

The article said Load Trail’s owners — Corny Thiessen, Jake Thiessen, Frank Thiessen, Johnny Thiessen and Aganetha Thiessen — took part in the donation ceremony.

The police association president could not be reached for comment.

Another Load Trail owner, Aganetha Thiessen, has traveled to Mexico and posted information about a Texas-based charity that helps poor families in Mexico, according to her Facebook page.

ICE said in May that it had already doubled the number of worksite investigations from the previous fiscal year.

There are an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., even though net migration from the big sending country of Mexico is now at zero, according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.

At the Mexican Consulate in Dallas, Deputy Consul Edurne Pineda said consular staff may go to assist immigrant families in Paris. Many Mexican immigrants live there, Pineda said.

“Unfortunately, we are expecting a lot of Mexican nationals to be detained,” he said. “We are going to interview each one with an attorney, and we will check to see if they have any chance of fighting their case.”

Raid aftermath

As workers at the facility were being processed Tuesday, federal authorities made sure that meals and water were being provided, Berger said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday raided Load Trail, a. trailer manufacturer in Sumner.

An ICE agent outside Load Trail LLC. after Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the trailer manufacturer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Load Trail.

Homeland Security Investigations set up a 24-hour hotline — 888-351-4024 — that families can call to find out where their loved ones are. ICE planned to attempt to identify workers who are caregivers of children and release them on humanitarian grounds, Berger said.

Tuesday afternoon, as temperatures neared 100 degrees, ICE agents blocked the entry at Load Trail’s office building, saying the company was closed. At a back entrance, agents were hauling off boxes.

Perry, the factory worker who described the raid, stood outside the plant near a lot filled with black trailers. He watched as dozens of immigrant workers were taken away in a variety of buses.

“I feel sorry for them,” said Perry, 42, who, like many others, said he is torn over immigration issues. “They are trying to support their families,” he said. “I am never going to be against people who want to support their families. But there is a right way to do it.”

But, Perry said, “I couldn’t call anyone on them. In my work, you get to know a lot of these guys.”

His wife, Chrystal, agreed. “You get to know them,” she echoed.

Near metal factory buildings in the Load Trail complex, buses with the logo of the Department of Homeland Security began making their way back onto the highway filled with workers.

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

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