PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Federal agents on Tuesday raided the offices of a food processing plant suspected of employing hundreds of illegal workers who used Social Security numbers that belonged to other people or were made up.
More than 165 plant workers were detained to be processed for possible deportation, officials said, and three people were indicted on immigration, illegal documents and identity theft charges.
The raid at American Staffing Resources Inc. offices at a Fresh Del Monte Produce fruit and vegetable processing plant was based on an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Social Security Administration that began in January, officials said.
Separate American Staffing offices also were searched, along with a Fresh Del Monte office, officials said.
The detained workers were being processed in Washington state, pending an appearance before an immigration judge. More than 30, however, were released because of humanitarian concerns but given a notice to appear, officials said.
Dennise Zavala-Diaz, standing outside the plant in tears, said she had an aunt who worked there.
``It's not fair,'' Zavala-Diaz said. ``They're hardworking people. They're only here to make money to put food in their mouths. They're not hurting anybody.''
According to an affidavit filed by Maximillian Trimm, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a check of employee records at one point showed that only 48 of nearly 600 workers at the plant had valid Social Security numbers.
The raid Tuesday involved fewer than 600 workers because of seasonal employment changes and shift work, said Leigh Winchell, agent in charge of the Seattle ICE office.
Federal prosecutors said that 20 of the Social Security numbers being misused belonged to people 60 or older, and that 29 belonged to dead people.
An official at Fresh Del Monte Produce Co. headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla., said the company could not comment until federal investigators gave it more information.
Portland Mayor Tom Potter said that the three arrests were understandable, but that ``to go after local workers who are here to support their families while filling the demands of local businesses for their labor is bad policy.''
The three indicted were a man accused of re-entering the United States illegally after being convicted of heroin charges and deported to Mexico; a man accused of encouraging an illegal immigrant; and a woman accused of possessing counterfeit alien registration documents, identity theft, selling a Social Security card, and encouraging an illegal immigrant.
A federal judge had authorized agents to search for evidence of violations such as hiring illegal aliens, identity theft and Social Security fraud, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Portland.
The raid was decided on about a month ago and had ``absolutely nothing'' to do with the immigration reform debate in Congress this week, Winchell said.
``If we have a need to change those laws, it's up to Congress and Washington, D.C., to come up with a comprehensive approach to immigration reform,'' he said.