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October 16, 2018

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ICE raids against businesses included Las Vegas site

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via photographer Keith Gardner

Federal agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations execute warrants in Bartlett, Neb., Aug. 8, 2018, in an investigation into the hiring and exploitation of undocumented workers.

A federal operation against businesses that allegedly exploited undocumented workers — possibly the biggest of its kind — reached Las Vegas, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At least one search warrant was served at a Las Vegas-area location, but further information was not available and a criminal complaint hadn’t been made public as of Wednesday evening.

At least 14 conspirators and 133 undocumented workers were arrested, officials said. Nevada prosecutors were not involved in the case.

More than 15 businesses, including agricultural facilities and a pair of restaurants — mostly located in Nebraska — were raided Wednesday by agents with Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of ICE, officials said. Several private properties also were searched.

Up to 400 local, state and federal officers participated in the operation, according to the Associated Press.

Federal prosecutors in Nebraska allege various workers were exploited through force, coercion and the threat of deportation, officials said.

Additionally, the perpetrators would charge the workers a fee to cash their paychecks and have taxes deducted from them, but that money would be pocketed, never making it to the government, officials said. The victims “were coerced to remain quiet about the criminal activity.”

Fourteen alleged conspirators were arrested Wednesday in Nebraska and Minnesota, officials said, noting the total count could increase as the investigation progresses. At least three suspects named in the indictment had not been detained.

Likewise, 133 undocumented workers there also were arrested, officials said. Some were released with a federal immigration court summons, while others would remain in ICE custody pending legal proceedings.

“Prosecutorial discretion on cases involving humanitarian concerns, such as health or family considerations” would be used, officials said.

Special agent in charge Tracy Cormier told the AP the operation was “one of the largest” in the investigative team’s 15-year history.

“I would say the amount of criminal warrants that are being executed will be one of the largest for HSI,” Cormier said. “I’m not aware of a bigger one.”

The raids come as President Donald Trump’s administration has been carrying out high-profile enforcement actions against employers who hire illegal labor.

“The ACLU condemns this ongoing campaign of misery that targets immigrants, disrupts local businesses and separates families,” Rose Godinez, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said in a written released Wednesday morning after news reports of a raid at O’Neill Ventures, which grows tomatoes in huge greenhouses.

Immigrant advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed released a similar statement saying, “Senseless raids like these today leave long-lasting damage across entire communities.”

Whether the operation targeted U.S. businesses hiring immigrants illegally in the country or the immigrants themselves, the effect is still the same, Nebraska Appleseed communications director Jeff Sheldon said.

“This is going to leave widespread fear and damage in the community,” he said. “You got businesses that are directly affected. You’ve got neighborhoods that are directly affected. You’ll have kids tonight coming home to a house where one or more of their parents are gone. This is pain that can last for generations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.