Investigation into alleged illegal alien workforce led to Wednesday’s immigration raids

GRAND ISLAND – Family members and friends taken away in handcuffs. Protesters pleading for immigration reform. People applauding the efforts of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Nebraska State Patrol. What led to Wednesday’s immigration raids in five Nebraska communities?

It goes much deeper than politics and conspiracy theories.

According to ICE and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a series of criminal arrest warrants were executed Wednesday for 17 employers and other individuals who allegedly colluded to create an illegal alien workforce that led to the bust of 133 undocumented immigrants.

The operation targeted a tomato greenhouse operation, restaurants, a grocery store, a grain company, a cattle company, farms and ranches in O’Neill, Atkinson, Stromsburg, Ainsworth, Bartlett and Royal. Search warrants were also issued in two Minnesota communities and in Las Vegas.

The employers allegedly exploited illegal alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. They required illegal aliens to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though money was never paid to the government, and were coerced to remain quiet about this criminal activity.

“The job magnet in the United States is primarily what draws illegal aliens across our borders,” HSI Special Agent in Charge Tracy Cormier said. “This criminal investigation has shown that these targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors.”

The workers who were apprehended will either be issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge and released from custody or remain in ICE custody pending immigration court proceedings.

Wednesday’s raids were part of a 15-month, ongoing HSI investigation based on evidence that companies allegedly knowingly hired illegal immigrants at their facilities, and that many of these immigrants were using fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens.

Cormier described the operation as one of the largest in its 15-year history.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol, CBP Air and Marine Operations, Holt County Sheriff’s Office, O’Neill Police Department and Nebraska State Patrol all participated in the enforcement.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was notified of the incursion before it began and says Nebraska businesses and people have to follow the federal law and that is what is being enforced. He did not comment on what the raid would cost the state.

A 24-hour toll-free detainee locator hotline has been provided 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 and the phone number is 1-888-351-4024.

Search warrants were served at the following businesses and locations:

  • Christensen Farms with numerous locations in Appleton, Minnesota; Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; and Atkinson, Nebraska;
  • Elkhorn River Farms in O’Neill, Nebraska;
  • O’Neill Ventures in O’Neill, Nebraska;
  • La Herradura Restaurant in O’Neill, Nebraska;
  • El Mercadito (grocery store) in O’Neill, Nebraska;
  • A private ranch in O’Neill, Nebraska;
  • La Herradura Restaurant in Stromsburg, Nebraska;
  • GJW LLC with three locations in Ainsworth, Nebraska;
  • J.E. Meurets Grain Company in Ainsworth, Nebraska;
  • Herd Co Cattle Company in Bartlett, Nebraska; and
  • Long Pine (farm) in Royal, Nebraska.

Note:  The above list of locations does not include private residences included in the execution of search and arrest warrants.

The following individuals were listed in the indictment.  Those marked with an asterisk (*) are not yet in custody follow the Aug. 8 criminal arrests.

  • 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,” and
  • Lillian Ajin.

Follow Hunter on Twitter: @TheBurnRadio