300+ Arrested on Identity Theft Charges at Pilgrim's Pride Plants

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice and an array of other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, announced yesterday it has arrested more than 300 foreign nationals employed at Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plants in five states who are suspected of committing identity theft and other criminal violations in order to obtain their jobs.

As of 1 p.m. on April 17, 91 of the 311 Pilgrim's Pride employees taken into custody during the enforcement action had been charged with criminal violations, including false use of a Social Security number and document fraud. The workers facing criminal charges have been turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, and the remaining employees are being processed for removal on administrative immigration violations.

"A significant percentage of identity theft is carried out by illegal aliens trying to avoid detection and gain employment. However, even under the least damaging circumstances, these identity thieves wreak havoc with the credit and tax histories of innocent U.S. citizens who spend years trying to repair the damage," said Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. During the investigation leading up to this operation, investigators identified numerous identity theft victims who described to ICE agents a myriad of hardships they suffered as a result of having their identities stolen, including mistaken tax liens, denial of medical and social services benefits, and damage to their credit ratings. Some of the victims had been notified by the Internal Revenue Service saying they owed taxes on as much as $17,000 in unreported employment wages; others had been arrested on warrants issued for crimes committed by the person who stole their identity.

As part of the investigation, ICE conducted simultaneous enforcement actions April 16 at Pilgrim's Pride plants in Mount Pleasant, Texas; Live Oak, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Batesville, Ark.; and Moorefield, W.Va. More specific information about each enforcement location is included on an updated fact sheet available at www.ice.gov. The management at the affected Pilgrim's Pride facilities cooperated fully with the arrests, ICE said. Misuse of Social Security account numbers is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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