Sobbing as she sat in the Park City jail—one of several regional detention centers where ICE sent arrestees on the night of the raid—the young mother made a promise to herself. “Of course I knew I would be returning after I was deported,” she says. “I could not be away from my children.”
She spent two weeks in Park City, then two more in an immigration detention center in Arizona, before being released in the border town of Nogales. From there, Marta made her way down to Michoacan, staying just long enough to gather the money to hire a coyote to guide her back across the border.
She was back in Hyrum in a matter of months, but life was never the same.
Marta survived on odd jobs for several years. Finally, this spring, she found work at a restaurant where she makes $4 less per hour than she did at Miller’s.
“I’m scared to be out of the house,” she says, sobbing. “I go to work, and then I come back right away. I am afraid I will be picked up again.”
Like Red, she has considered returning to Mexico. And like Red, she has decided to stay.
But she is woefully delinquent on her bills. “About a year ago, we were about a year behind on our rent,” she says. “Now, I’m not even sure how far behind we are.”
Reyes, the Dallas attorney, estimated that 50 percent of those who were deported as a result of the Swift raids have since returned.
Rolando Murillo, a businessman and advocate for immigrants in Cache County, figures that estimate might be on the low side. “I’d say 50 percent of those deported from here have returned to Cache County,” he says. And others have returned, he says, just not to northern Utah.
“Think about that,” Murillo says. “All the money that was spent. They sent hundreds of ICE agents here and to places all across the United States. They spent months planning. Then they had to put people in jail for weeks and months at a time. You know what that costs? Then the prosecutions. All for what?”
Tony Baird, Cache County’s chief prosecuting attorney, rejects the notion that the cases he prosecuted were in any way meaningless. Baird led a team of attorneys that spent hundreds of hours on the Swift cases. Because some of the defendants were able to secure pre-trial release and then fled, many of the cases have yet to be resolved.
The stories of illegal workers caught in the middle of America’s broken immigration policy “may be compelling,” Baird says, “but I have to deal with the victims who are trying to erase all of these records that are not their own, who have to deal with Social Security and the IRS to try to recover their identities. … So, more compelling to me are these poor victims of identity fraud.”
Cache County victims advocate Terryl Warner agrees. “There were definitely some true victims,” she says.
But not nearly as many as she had expected.
“We went into this thinking we would find all these victims of identity theft,” Warner says. “But quite a few of the people were inmates who were very aware that their identity was being used. They had two, three, four people using their Social Security number—and all that time, all this money is going into their Social Security accounts.”
Not to mention their bank accounts. For the privilege of using these cards, undocumented workers sometimes pay hundreds of dollars a month, often in the form of automatically deducted car payments.
Five years after the Swift raids brought this brand of exploitation to light, ICE still hasn’t figured out how to put a stop to identity “rentals.”
While ICE has deported nearly 30,000 people over the past four years in the four-state region headquartered in Salt Lake City, the agency has made very few busts of anyone knowingly selling their papers.
“The fact is that they quickly deny it,” says Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Salt Lake City. “Without that evidence, we’re hard-pressed to get a case accepted for prosecution.”
Lines noted that ICE has several new initiatives to “help businesses reduce the likelihood that they’ll be forced to let go a significant percentage of their workforce” as a result of a federal action.
Among the new programs is IMAGE—the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers initiative—intended to help employers enhance their ability to detect fraudulent documents.
“What we like to do up front is training—assisting them in establishing practices to detect unlawful employment before they fall prey to it,” Lines says.
But he doesn’t do much of that. Although the program has been around since before the raid, no businesses in Utah are enrolled.
That might be because of the real or perceived pointlessness of federal efforts to help employers. In 2008, Utah legislators passed a bill that required employers to verify their employees’ status by using the same system that Swift was using before the raids that cost the company almost a quarter of its meatpacking labor force.
The federal programs have proven particularly ineffective at catching those who are renting identification from others in their local community.
That’s how “Joanie” has managed to continue her employment at Miller’s.
“The person whose papers I use doesn’t work,” she says. “I work for her—and that works out for both of us, although it is tough for me to survive on just under half of my wage.”
Someday, Joanie figures, ICE will catch up to her. “And then I’ll be a criminal, and she’ll be the victim—but that’s not really the way it is.”
Standing in freezing temperatures in the packed corrals besides the Miller’s plant, a middle-age Hispanic man in thick brown coveralls snapped a plastic flag at a herd of cows, compelling the animals up a ramp where, over the next hour, they would be killed, gutted, butchered and packaged for delivery to supermarkets across the country.
In a small, warm guard station next to the corrals, a jovial, gray-haired, white security officer hands out application forms to those who come to inquire about jobs. The unemployment rate nationwide may be 9 percent, but the guard always has a crisp stack of applications on hand—the slaughterhouse is almost always hiring.
“People talk a lot about how these are jobs that were once done by American citizens, and that’s true,” Murillo says. “But what they don’t realize is that there is a dial inside that factory that controls how fast the belts move. … The pace at which meat moves though that factory is so much higher today than it was in those days.”
It’s harsh, physically intense and sometimes dangerous work, Murillo says—and non-immigrant workers simply aren’t accustomed to such hardship.
“They don’t last,” he says. “I knew one young man, he was a football player. Really big. Really strong. He lasted six months, and he was really proud of that. He told me, ‘I am the white guy who lasted the longest.’ ”