The children, mainly from Guatemala, according to local immigration advocates, were working in meat processing and sanitation in a plant run by Gerber’s Poultry.
Federal agents found more than two dozen minors illegally working inside a poultry plant in Kidron, Ohio, earlier this month, according to local immigration advocates who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity.
The children, mainly from Guatemala, according to the advocates, were working in meat processing and sanitation in a plant run by Gerber’s Poultry, which produces Amish Farm Chicken, advertised with the slogan “Better feed, better taste.”
Marisa Darden, a lawyer representing Gerber’s Poultry, had no comment when asked about minors working at the plant on Friday. She told NBC News, “We don’t have any comment at this time. We are cooperating, we just can’t talk about it.”
On Monday, the company said in a statement, “[W]e were surprised to learn that our Kidron, Ohio plant is the subject of inquiry from federal law enforcement regarding the composition of our employees and some third-party contract employees. We are fully cooperating with that investigation. While we have confidence in our process to ensure we comply with all federal regulations to verify eligibility for employment, we are actively reviewing our policies to ensure compliance at every level and will continue to review our relationships with third party vendors and their policies in similar fashion.”
Local immigration advocates say agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI surrounded the plant in the early evening of Oct. 4 and shut down traffic into and out of the plant.
NBC News spoke to a current employee — who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media — who was at the plant the night of the raid and spoke with the FBI agents who were there. The worker said agents arrived around 9:00 p.m. and asked employees for identification, asked about plant sanitation and stayed in the plant most of the night.
The agents began organizing large groups of workers into lines, according to apparent video of the operation posted on TikTok. From the videos, it appears many of the workers feared they were being rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a raid.
The agents took photos of the workers and asked them where they got their documents to show they were of age and legally allowed to work in the United States, according to the immigration advocates. They also asked them to fill out a questionnaire that was made available in Spanish, English and in languages indigenous to Guatemala.
Local resident Dany Ceto, who has relatives who work at the plant, told NBC News he saw the FBI agents surround the plant and at first assumed it was an immigration raid. He said children work at the plant’s second shift because it works with their school schedule.
No arrests were made at the time of the operation, according to multiple eyewitnesses.
It was not immediately clear what company handles sanitation of the plant. Sanitation at meat and poultry plants is often handled by outside firms.
In its statement on Monday, Gerber’s Poultry said, “[W]e take the legal employment and safety of all individuals who work for and with our company very seriously. We have formal identity verification procedures in place and dedicate significant resources to ensure that Gerber’s Poultry employees and contractors are legally authorized to work. We also have strict policies against hiring minors in accordance with industry guidelines, rules and laws.”
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment and HSI declined to comment.
Under U.S. labor law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to work in meatpacking facilities because of the increased risk of injury from dangerous machines and chemicals. A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy was recently killed working in a poultry plant in Mississippi.
NBC News has previously reported on the 69% rise in child labor in the United States since 2018, particularly among Guatemalan youth who have recently migrated and find themselves working in the meatpacking and sanitation of meatpacking plants.
The immigration advocates working with the Guatemalan community around Kidron, which is near Canton, say they believe some of the children have been forced to work by nonrelated adults who have housed them and are taking some or all of their wages.
Others have voluntarily gone to work in meat processing and slaughterhouse sanitation because they want to earn money for themselves, the advocates said.
Source : NBCNEWS