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Isabel Zelaya, et al. v. Robert Hammer, et al.

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On April 5, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, executed the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, detaining approximately100 Latino workers at an east Tennessee meat processing plant and violating their constitutional rights. The SPLC and its allies filed a federal lawsuit less than a year after the raid on behalf of the workers.

The lawsuit describes how ICE agents detained every worker at the Southeastern Provision meat packing plant who looked Latino without regard to citizenship or documentation, a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Federal agents also disregarded workers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal arrests and used excessive force.

Many workers weren’t even asked about documentation until hours into the raid. By then, many had already been traumatized, handcuffed and denied communication with attorneys or family members — or access to restrooms or critical medication — and taken to a holding facility.

The raid devastated the local community. The workers were active participants of vibrant communities around the plant, and the effects of the raid were far-reaching. Nearly 600 children didn’t show up for school the next day, and workers and their families continue to deal with the impacts of psychological trauma, physical ailments and economic insecurity.

Before the raid, workers encountered labor exploitation, including wage theft and unsafe working conditions, at the Southeastern Provision meat packing plant, spanning many years. In 2018, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the plant $41,775 for workplace safety violations. In July 2020, the U,S. Department of Labor entered a consent order under which Southeastern Provision was required to pay over $600,000 in unpaid wages and liquidated damages.