More than 130 immigrant workers were detained and 17 alleged conspirators arrested Wednesday to break up an alleged, coordinated effort to illegally bring workers into northern Nebraska, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said.

ICE made arrests in northern Nebraska and at hog farms in Minnesota — Christensen Farms, one of the largest, family-owned pork producers in the U.S.

Shawn Neudauer of the Department of Homeland Security said the 17 individuals are believed to be part of a criminal conspiracy to exploit illegal alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in the two states.

The action came after a 15-month Homeland Security investigation based on evidence that companies knowingly hired illegal aliens. Many of the aliens are using fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens. The investigation is ongoing, Neudauer said.

Authorities suspect the illegal aliens were exploited through force, coercion, or threat of arrest and/or deportation. More specifically, the illegal aliens were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, with tax money deducted from their pay, Neudauer said, and told to keep quiet about it.

Investigators believe the taxes were withheld when the checks were cashed, but never paid to the government.

According to a federal indictment, the central figure was Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, who owned a grocery store and operated a Mexican restaurant in O’Neill, called La Herradura, the Associated Press reported.

Delgado is accused of supplying illegal workers to a tomato greenhouse — O’Neill Ventures; a potato processing facility — Elkhorn River Farms; and Herd Co. Cattle Company in Bartlett, among other businesses, AP said. 

The 133 workers were administratively arrested for immigration violations. Some will be issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge and then released. Others will remain in ICE custody pending immigration court proceedings.

Search warrants were served at these businesses and locations:

• Christensen Farms, with locations in Appleton and Sleepy Eye, Minn. and Atkinson, Neb.

• Elkhorn River Farms in O’Neill, Neb.

• O’Neill Ventures in O’Neill, Neb.

• La Herradura Restaurant in O’Neill, Neb.

• El Mercadito (grocery store) in O’Neill, Neb.

• A private ranch in O’Neill, Neb.

• La Herradura Restaurant in Stromsburg, Neb.

• GJW LLC with three locations in Ainsworth, Neb.

• J.E. Meurets Grain Company in Ainsworth, Neb.

• Herd Co Cattle Company in Bartlett, Neb.

• Long Pine (farm) in Royal, Neb.

 

The following individuals were listed in the indictment.

(Those marked with an asterisk (*) were not yet in custody following the sweep on Aug. 8.)

• Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, aka “Pablo,”

• Antonio De Jesus Castro, aka “Tony,”

• Magdalena Castro Benitez, aka ”Nena”

• Alma Hernandez Moreno, aka “Aunt”

• Anayancy Castro Hernandez, aka “Anay”

*Fabian Castro, aka “Fabi”

• Suni Sarahi Sanchez Delgado

*Osvaldo Sanchez Delgado, aka “Lalo,” aka “Lalito”

• John Christopher Good

*Aracely Heredia Martinez, aka “Donita”

• Eric Beringer

• Christopher Thurlow

• Mayra P. Jimenez Castellon

• Asiyadeth Jimenez Castellon

• John Glidden

• Jaime Garcia Cota, aka “David”

• Lillian Ajin.

Church and charity groups are expressing concerns that the families of the illegal immigrants are being torn apart and the local economy harmed by lack of workers and the loss of residents.

“We also do not condone actions that exploit workers,” Lutheran Family Services said. “However, instead of arresting people, putting children at risk, tearing families apart, and hurting local economies, a viable means for hard workers to become documented needs to be created. With the current rate of  unemployment in the state of Nebraska and elsewhere, there is a strong need for workers, and yet there are an extremely limited number of visas available.”

LFS said the impact of the raids underscores the need for fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform.

Neudauer said ICE utilizes prosecutorial discretion on cases involving health or family considerations. Accordingly, several individuals were processed and released the same day on humanitarian grounds.

A 24-hour toll-free detainee locator hotline is available for family members of those arrested in this operation to field questions about their detention location and status, and the removal process.

The hotline operates in English and Spanish; the phone number is 1-888-351-4024, Neudauer said.

This HSI-led enforcement action was coordinated with federal, state and local counterparts including the following agencies: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska; ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol, CBP Air and Marine Operations; and the following Nebraska law enforcement agencies: Holt County Sheriff’s Office, O’Neill Police Department and Nebraska State Patrol.