Today: 14-04-2024

Federal agents have discovered more than two dozen minors working at a poultry factory in Ohio

Federal agents have discovered more than two dozen minors working at a poultry factory in Ohio, according to local immigration advocates. These children, primarily from Guatemala, were employed at the Gerber's Poultry plant, involved in meat processing and sanitation.

Local immigration attorneys, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, stated that federal agents found over two dozen minors working illegally at the poultry factory in Kidron, Ohio, earlier this month.

According to these advocates, most of these children are from Guatemala and were working in meat processing and sanitation at the Gerber's Poultry plant, which produces chicken from Amish farms, marketed under the slogan "Better Feed, Better Taste."

Marisa Darden, the attorney representing Gerber's Poultry, declined to comment when asked about the minors working at the plant on Friday. She told NBC News, "We have no comment at this time. We are cooperating; we just can't talk about it."

On Monday, the company released a statement: "[We] were surprised to learn that our Kidron, Ohio plant is the subject of an investigation by federal law enforcement regarding the makeup of our workforce and some contract workers. We are fully cooperating with this investigation. While we are confident that our process ensures compliance with all federal rules for employment verification, we are actively reviewing our policies to ensure compliance at all levels and will continue to scrutinize our relationships with third-party suppliers and their policies in the same manner."

Local immigration attorneys say that agents from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and FBI surrounded the plant on the evening of October 4th and blocked movement to and from the facility.

NBC News spoke with a current employee, who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to the media, who was present at the plant the night of the raid and spoke with FBI agents. The worker said that the agents arrived around 9 p.m., requested identification from the employees, asked about the sanitary conditions at the plant, and remained on-site for most of the night.

According to video footage of the operation posted on TikTok, agents began forming large groups of workers in queues. Many workers, according to the video, were concerned that they would be detained by immigration and customs enforcement during the raid.

According to immigration advocates, agents photographed the workers and asked them where they obtained documents proving they were of legal working age in the United States. They also asked them to fill out a questionnaire available in Spanish, English, and indigenous Guatemalan languages.

Local resident Danny Cheto, who has relatives working at the plant, told NBC News he saw FBI agents surround the plant and initially thought it was an immigration raid. He said that children work the second shift at the plant to accommodate their school schedules.

Arrests were not made during the operation, according to multiple witnesses.

It wasn't immediately clear which company is responsible for the sanitation of the plant. Often, third-party firms handle sanitation work in meat and poultry factories.

In its statement on Monday, Gerber's Poultry said, "We take the legal employment and safety of all individuals who work for and with our company very seriously. We have formal identity verification procedures, and we allocate significant resources to ensure that employees and contractors of Gerber's Poultry are legally authorized to work. We also have a strict policy against hiring minors consistent with industry guidance, rules, and regulations."

The FBI did not respond to requests for comment, and HSI declined to comment.

According to U.S. labor law, individuals under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in meat-processing facilities due to the heightened risk of injury from dangerous machinery and chemicals. Recently, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy was killed while working at a poultry factory in Mississippi.

NBC News previously reported a 69% increase in child labor in the United States since 2018, especially among Guatemalan youth who have recently migrated and work in meat and poultry processing and sanitation at meatpacking plants.

Immigration advocates working with the Guatemalan community in the Kidron area, near Canton, say that some children were forced to work by unrelated adults who housed them and took a portion or all of their wages. Others voluntarily went to work in meat processing and sanitation at slaughterhouses because they wanted to earn money for themselves, according to advocates.