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Immigration agents detain hundreds at poultry plants

  • Story Highlights
  • Chicken-processing plants raided in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and W.Va.
  • Sweeps executed against people suspected of criminal violations to obtain jobs
  • Pilgrim's Pride said about 400 non-management employees were detained
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(CNN) -- Federal immigration agents fanned out across five states Wednesday, detaining hundreds of employees of Pilgrim's Pride, one of the nation's largest poultry companies.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, along with the U.S. Department of Justice and an array of other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, raided chicken-processing plants in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia, authorities said.

The sweeps were carried out against "foreign nationals ... who are suspected of committing identity theft and other criminal violations in order to obtain their jobs," according to ICE.

Pilgrim's Pride said about 400 non-management employees were detained.

The Pittsburg, Texas-based company said it is accused of no wrongdoing in connection with the raids. It and the immigration-enforcement agency said Pilgrim's Pride "cooperated fully" with federal authorities.

"No civil or criminal charges, including charges that Pilgrim's knowingly hired these employees or conspired to hire them, have been filed against the company in any of these cases," said Ray Atkinson, a company spokesman.

Pilgrim's Pride said the number of employees detained represent about four percent of the 9,400 people workers at the plants.

Immigration officials said the arrests came out of indictments issued April 1 by a federal grand jury in Tyler, Texas.

"The indictments allege that each defendant obtained and used the Social Security account numbers of others to obtain employment with Pilgrim's Pride Corp.," ICE said.

Each defendant could receive up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.

Pilgrim's Pride is the largest chicken company in the United States and second-largest in Mexico, with more than 54,000 employees, a company statement said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Pilgrim's Pride CorporationU.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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