Children Temporarily Separated by Fresh Mark Raid

SALEM, Ohio – The raid conducted by agents of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the Department of Homeland Security yesterday on the Fresh Mark Inc. meat and packaging plant here temporarily displaced children from their families, officials said Wednesday.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that children being separated from their families has happened in our community,” Mayor John Berlin said Wednesday.

Those separated from their families have since been reunited, sources say, but the incident has rattled local officials.

Special agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations executed a criminal search warrant at the Fresh Mark plant at 1735 S. Lincoln Ave. around 4 p.m. Tuesday. The raid on the Salem plant led to a total of 146 arrests — 98 males and 48 females, primarily from Guatemala, according to an ICE spokesman.

Berlin said that the agents had brought with them Guatemalan interpreters who were able to identify the names of children who would be left alone as a result of the action.

“A complete list was made and the children were brought to the First Christian Church, fed, and made comfortable until they could be reunited with family members,” Berlin said. “Our police officers worked until after midnight.”

A member of the church who declined to give her name confirmed that children were temporarily relocated there during yesterday’s sweep. Some of the children remained until early in the morning, but no one had to spend the night.

“We believe all of the families have been reunited or in the process of being reunited,” she said, adding that she did not know precisely how many children were affected.

Berlin emphasized that some special arrangements made for mothers to be processed first so that they could return to their families as soon as possible. “The main focus was to take care of the children,” he said.

The mayor said that the community has welcomed the migrant population — especially through its churches and schools — and said that Fresh Mark has acted as a good corporate partner in the community.

“They’re great employers,” he said.

Fresh Mark is a meat processing plant and often relies on a migrant workforce because it’s difficult to find local workers who are willing to do this type of job, Berlin said.

Nevertheless, Berlin, as a public official, understands the need to enforce federal law, and hopes that once the employees are processed, they could return to work at the company and be afforded a path to obtain legal work status.

He noted that the migrant community is often reluctant to request help from the police, since many fear deportation. That also opens up the prospect for this population to be taken advantage of in other areas.

“I feel bad for them,” he said. “We’re here to make it better for them in the community.”

Berlin said that local police were informed yesterday “to expect something” from federal officials and coordinated with agents as they executed the warrant at Fresh Mark.

The raid Tuesday was part of an ongoing investigation into Fresh Mark, an ICE spokesman said Wednesday.

“Last night’s action was the opening salvo into the investigation against Fresh Mark,” Khaalid Walls said in an email to The Business Journal.

The agents identified the employees as subject to arrest for violating U.S. immigration law, according to a press release issued late Tuesday. Several of those arrested were processed and released the same day on humanitarian grounds.

Agents also executed warrants at Fresh Mark sites in Massillon and one in Canton, the agency said.

The raids are part of a year-long, ongoing HSI investigation into whether Fresh Mark knowingly hired illegal immigrants at its meat processing and packaging plant here. According to ICE, many of those apprehended in Tuesday’s action used fraudulent identifications that belonged to U.S. citizens.

“Unlawful employment is one of the key magnets drawing illegal aliens across our borders,” Steve Francis, HSI special agent in charge for 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 actions.”

No charges as yet have been brought against Fresh Mark.

The raids were coordinated with the Northern District of Ohio’s U.S. Attorney’s Office; U.S. Border Patrol, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations; HSI Detroit and Chicago Special Response Teams; Salem Police Department and the Columbiana County Sheriff’s office.

The Salem Police said they could not comment on the investigation, and a spokeswoman from Fresh Mark referred all inquiries to Homeland Security.

A statement from the company said that Fresh Mark was the first company in Ohio to partner in the voluntary ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, program.

To qualify for the program, companies must comply with requirements such as participate in the Department of Homeland Security e-Verify program, establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes internal Form I-9 audits at least once a year, and submit to a Form I-9 inspection.

Illegal immigrants will be detained in facilities in Michigan and Ohio while awaiting removal proceedings. A 24-hour locator hotline available in Spanish and English is available for family members arrested during the operation and can be accessed at 1-888-351-4024.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents workers at the Fresh Mark plants, said in a statement today the union condemns President Donald Trump and the raids Tuesday.

“We are outraged at the actions of Donald Trump,” he said. “Yesterday, Donald Trump sent in ICE agents to separate hard working immigrant families in an egregious show of force. Our union will not stand for violence against immigrants; we will not stand for tearing families apart and we will not stand for the terrifying tactics of the Trump Administration.”

Earlier this month, ICE agents raided a flower and garden business in Sandusky and arrested 114 people suspected of violating U.S. immigration law. They remain incarcerated at the Northeast Ohio Correcitonal Center in Youngstown.

U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, D-13, sent a letter dated June 13 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson expressing concern over the strong-arm tactics used by ICE to conduct the Sandusky raid.

“Reports suggest the raid was carried out in an unnecessarily aggressive and disruptive manner that subsequently traumatized and entire community,” Ryan wrote. “Furthermore, the people being detained are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. It is unconscionable to simply rip these people away from their children and families who may depend on them for survival.”

Mayor Berlin suspects that other small towns with sizeable migrant populations can expect more crackdowns like what occurred in Salem.

“I think this is going to happen more often in communities like ours where migrant workers have become part of the population,” Mayor Berlin said. “It’s sad when this happens – it’s very emotional.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.