By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC


In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, entitled Zelaya, et al. v. Miles et al., seven former workers of Southeastern Provision, who were detained, have sued nine agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), claiming violation of their civil rights in the 2018 raid by ICE of Southeastern Provision, a meat-packing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee.

The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center, alleges ICE agents engaged in racial profiling and illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments. The lawsuit claims that the officers’ goal extended what the IRS search warrant authorized when they detained every worker who appeared Latino. The lawsuit claims that the federal officers made arrests without a valid arrest warrant and used brutal and excessive force. The lawsuit seeks class-action status that would allow all Latino workers detained in the raid to join. This lawsuit appears to be the first legal challenge of its kind on behalf of undocumented workers.

The lawsuit also alleges ICE agents cursed, shoved and punched unarmed Latino workers. According to the lawsuit, no ICE agent asked anyone about their immigration status until after detaining them, and in some cases not until hauling them to the National Guard armory. "Agents did not know the identities or the immigration status of any individual workers. They were using race as a proxy for immigration status," Meredith Stewart, one of the workers’ attorneys, said.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said the agency doesn't comment on lawsuits. "In general, ICE activities are conducted in full compliance with federal law and agency policy," he said.

ICE had a federal search warrant seeking company records but did not have any arrest warrants for the arrest of any of the workers. It should be noted that most of the workers were not criminally arrested; rather, they were detained based upon their undocumented status.

About 40 of the workers detained in the raid have been able to bond out of an ICE detention facility and are currently awaiting their immigration court cases. Five remain jailed in ICE detention centers while the rest have left the U.S. voluntarily.

If you want to know more information on issues related to immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.