More than 300 suspected illegal immigrants were arrested Tuesday morning at a chicken processing plant near Greenville, S.C. -- the latest in a stepped-up federal enforcement effort that has resulted in the deportation of thousands of illegal workers in recent months.
Tuesday's raid was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and involved hundreds of agents from numerous agencies. The target was Columbia Farms, a processing plant that had been the subject of a 10-month criminal investigation.
Resident David Wynn witnessed the hubbub from down the street and applauded the news.
"The excuse that they're taking jobs that Americans won't do -- well, that just doesn't hold water anymore," said Wynn, 48, the co-owner of a nearby air-conditioning wholesaler who spoke Tuesday afternoon by phone. "With the economic crisis we've got going on, we've got to put a stop to it."
Workplace raids such as the one at Columbia Farms have become increasingly common as the Bush administration draws near its end, especially since Congress last year failed to pass an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Critics decry what they contend is the rough treatment of illegal immigrants, as well as the disruption to families.
On Tuesday, ICE Special Agent Kenneth A. Smith of Atlanta said the Greenville raid and others like it get to the root of the problem.
"ICE targets employers because the promise of employment draws illegal workers across our borders," Smith said in a statement. "By holding employers accountable we are diminishing the magnet and discouraging others from breaking the law."
Federal officials earlier this year arrested 12 supervisors at the plant. Eleven of them, all Mexican men, were illegal immigrants who were charged with aggravated identity theft and making false statements.
Seven have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The twelfth was a human resources manager, Elaine Crump, 48. She was indicted on 20 counts of filing false federal identification forms.
Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the investigation was not complete.
"We collected evidence, and we are going to go where that evidence takes us," she said.
Officials at the poultry company could not be reached for comment.