"Luis” vividly remembers that fateful, frigid day in December five years ago.
While working at the meatpacking plant in Hyrum on Dec. 12, 2006, he was detained along with dozens of others during a surprise immigration raid. An immigration officer started swearing at him, he remembers.
“Each time I would try to talk or say something, he would just be, ‘Shut up, stupid,’” said Luis, an undocumented worker who lives Logan, through a translator.
After being handcuffed, he was taken to the cafeteria. There Luis, a meat cutter at the Swift & Company facility, waited — wondering what would happen to him and his wife, also an illegal immigrant, who worked there packaging the meat.
“I felt helpless because there wasn’t anything that I could do, and I knew my wife was going to get taken away,” Luis said. “I started to feel guilty, because I started thinking about my family and everything. ... I had not wanted my wife to work there, because I knew what would probably happen.”
Luis stayed in his spot and was eventually released. He waited to see if his wife, “Ana” — who was also detained — would be let go, but that never happened.
The couple agreed to speak with The Herald Journal on the condition that their real names not be used. They and their children were directly impacted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on the Hyrum plant, during which federal authorities shut down operations at the 1,200-employee facility in search of suspected illegal immigrants. The action resulted in 145 Swift employees in Hyrum being taken into custody on Dec. 12, 2006. Ana was one of them.
Ana says that around 6 a.m. that day, some of the workers from the night shift informed the others “that Immigration was outside and wanted to come into the plant.”
Before long, Ana was led into the cafeteria, and she remembers immigration officers who were upset.
“They started handcuffing us and just being really mean to people as they were coming in,” she said.
While her husband managed to avoid arrest, Ana and several others were taken to Salt Lake City for the night.
She recalls about 30 to 40 of the workers being put in the same room, and Ana alleges they were treated inhumanely, remembering McDonald’s hamburgers landing on the ground.
“They would throw the food for us at the floor, and we had to pick it up from the floor,” Ana said.
She also contends the group of 30 to 40 she was with had to share a single toilet, and the officers prohibited them from flushing it.
“They closed the water (off) so that we couldn’t flush the water, because they said they were going to punish us because we kept crying and talking,” said Ana. “And they didn’t give us any toilet paper.”
By about noon the next day, Ana was transported to a jail — with two to a cell — in Park City. Two weeks later, Ana and others boarded a plane and were taken to another jail in El Paso, Texas, where she spent two more weeks.
“How do you think I felt?” she said. “I had a 4-month-old daughter, and I thought I was never going to see (my children) again.”
Next, she ended up in Florence, Texas, for another two weeks, and after signing some voluntary departure papers, she was taken by van to Nogales, Mexico, for deportation.
“When we got transported into Nogales, it was 2 in the morning. There was a lot of bad people (around); there was a lot of people out on the streets drinking,” she said. “There was a lot of people that are in gangs that were there.”
Despite the chaotic conditions, Ana managed to stay at a friend’s place that night. The next day, she called her brother asking for money so she could get to Michoacan, where her mother lives.
She stayed with her mother for the next seven months, keeping in touch with her family by phone.
Asked how her husband — tending to their children in Logan — handled the separation, Ana responded, “When I would talk to him, I saw that he was really stressed out. ... He would cry at night.”
She yearned to be back with her family and decided to link up with the “coyotes” who smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States.
Around noon one day in the summer of 2007, she and a group of others entered the U.S. from Tijuana.
“I was really scared, because the truck that they had was stolen from a dealer,” said Ana.
A week later, Ana was back in Logan, reunited with her family. She, her husband and their children are still living in Cache Valley, where they have resided for the past 20 years.
The couple’s oldest daughter, 19, has suffered from depression in the aftermath of the raid.
“She takes two pills a day to be OK,” Ana said. “If she doesn’t take that, she goes crazy.”
In addition, that daughter and two younger ones — ages 13 and 17 — are all seeing a psychologist.
Ana is not working currently, and Luis is no longer employed at the Hyrum plant, now owned by JBS.
Norma Martinez, director of the Multicultural Center of Cache Valley, said many in the Hispanic community are still plagued by fear five years after the raid.
“Even though it’s been five years ... people who were directly affected by it, they’ve come back — but either they have to find other ways to work, or they’re finding it very difficult to find work because of that fear,” said Martinez, who volunteered with the center at the time of the raid.
Margaret McDonald, a spokeswoman for JBS, said the company’s hiring process is monitored by two federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE, which enforces verification provisions, and the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel, or OSC, which addresses anti-discrimination concerns.
“This structure can and has created significant policy tension between determining a worker’s eligibility versus following anti-discrimination rules,” McDonald wrote in an email, following up to The Herald Journal’s request for comment.
In 2002, Swift was cited by the OSC for $2.5 million for allegedly being too aggressive in verifying the work authorization status of new hires, she said.
“To put it simply, we were in trouble for allegedly pushing too hard to verify that employees truly maintained the status they claimed,” McDonald wrote.
Since the raid, she said a process has been added in the application and interview phase to “connect the dots” of potential workers’ backgrounds, documentation and information from interviews “to ensure that any inconsistencies are articulated and reasonably explained.”
In addition, McDonald noted the company is using “significant trend analyses” to aid in identifying possible document fraud.
Deputy Cache County Attorney Tony Baird, who was closely involved in prosecuting those charged in the raid, said 129 cases were filed locally — containing charges such as identity fraud and forgery. Of those cases, 56 are still outstanding.
“These people, for whatever reason, have never been picked up,” said Baird.
He noted in the majority of the other 73 cases, most were convicted of either felony identification fraud or felony forgery.
“Most of them received a jail sentence, and then they were turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings,” Baird said.
Ana estimates there were about 200 illegal immigrant workers at the Swift plant.
She said she knows of others who were also deported and are now back in Cache Valley.
“They live with much more fear than I do,” she said.
But Ana admits her life is filled with anxiety.
“I’m scared that if they come looking for me, they will detain me and give me more time in jail,” she said. “And I don’t have money to go to Mexico.”
Not quite, says Baird. If Ana were to be caught again, she’d likely be headed for prison, he said.
“Those that we have caught that have returned — and there have been some of those — if they’re caught, the judges send them to prison,” Baird said.
Asked about illegal immigrants who have come back to Cache County after deportation, Baird said, “Is it unsettling to me? Yes. ... The reason why our country is great is because people can rely on the expectation that the rule of law is supreme here.”
He added, “What I believe is that many of the illegals — although there is a motive and an incentive to come to this country — they come from a culture of lawlessness. ... They want our culture to accept the same culture that they came from ... and that’s the difference between the United States and Mexico, for example.”
Ana explained her rationale for staying in the United States illegally, saying she wants to go back to Mexico, but “there’s no work there.” She added the schools there “are not good for my kids. ... But you know that eventually you’re probably going to have to go back.”
She acknowledged using another person’s real Social Security card and birth certificate, along with forging a piece of identification by using her own photo on it.
Baird said that a number of people were victimized by the misrepresentation used by illegal immigrants in Cache County.
“A lot of people want to focus on the circumstances of those that come here illegally, but I think what gets forgotten in that story is all the people that have their Social Security (information) used inappropriately, their credit ruined and all of these other sort of things that come along with it,” said Baird. “Those are the people that I am worried about. People that come here unlawfully know that at any given moment, the gig may be up, and you may be caught.”
For now, that’s a risk Ana is willing to take — all the while living in fear, while trying to provide a better life for her family.
“I am scared,” she said. “I fear that they’ll come looking for me at my house — that they’ll come at night or in the day looking for me. So I live with my door locked, but only God knows.”