ICE officials raided the company’s plant in Salem, Ohio, about 4 p.m. Tuesday. Search warrants also were served at three other locations in the state.
“Unlawful employment is one of the key magnets drawing illegal aliens across our borders,” Steve Francis, a special agent in charge for the Homeland Security Investigations, ICE’s investigative arm, in Michigan and Ohio, said in a statement. “Businesses who knowingly harbor and hire illegal aliens as a business model must be held accountable for their action.”
One local church official said the arrests have instilled “fear and heartbreak” among families of those detained.
“One father said to me, ‘I feel like my heart is being pulled out.’ His wife was taken, and he has two children under the age of 2,” said Sister Rene Weeks, director of Hispanic ministry at St. Paul Church in Salem. Weeks said she was with families for several hours after the raid on Tuesday.
ICE has carried out several such raids in recent months.
Immigrant advocates condemned the arrests, saying the raids have put a strain on resources of groups that help the Hispanic community in Ohio.
“There is a lot of fear, an absolute fear, gripping the community. . . . This is not about enforcing the law. This is about decimating the Latino community,” said Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of Hola, an Ohio grass-roots organization.
Dahlberg said her organization is helping families get in touch with relatives who have been arrested. Already, she said, about 200 children have been affected by the raid two weeks ago at the gardening company in Ohio, and that number will only rise.
“There’s going to be several more Latino children in Ohio impacted that are losing at least one or two of their parents,” she said.
The latest raid at Fresh Mark comes several years after ICE, under the Obama administration, announced the supplier was the first Ohio company to partner with a program meant to “curtail the employment of unauthorized workers,” according to a 2012 news release announcing ICE’s partnership with Fresh Mark.
Under the program, called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, employers can voluntarily partner with the agency by taking steps to weed out undocumented workers. They must use the government’s E-Verify system, which checks employees’ I-9 employment eligibility status and create hiring policies.
“We are honored to be selected by ICE to participate in this program,” Fresh Mark human resources director Mark Sullivan said in the news release. “For nearly a decade, Fresh Mark has proactively partnered with the government to ensure the integrity of our workforce and the IMAGE program will be a tremendous addition to our future employee verification process.”
ICE officials did not say whether Fresh Mark had been complying with the program.
In a statement, the company confirmed immigration officials showed up at its four locations in Ohio. The statement also acknowledged Fresh Mark’s participation in the IMAGE program but did not address why the company is under investigation for allegedly hiring undocumented workers.
ICE officials said those arrested will be detained at facilities in Michigan and Ohio while they await deportation proceedings.
Weeks, the church official from Salem, said workers who are in the country legally but did not have proper documentation with them at the time of the raid were later released after officials determined they are authorized to work in the United States.
She said a woman who was seven months pregnant and another worker who has leukemia also were released. ICE officials said they released several workers for health and family reasons and other humanitarian concerns.
“Right now, we’re trying to see what’s needed on kind of an individual, case-by-case basis,” Weeks said. “There are families, we think, that are in hiding and some we haven’t been able to reach.”
Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.