SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) – One year ago, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the Fresh Mark meat plant in Salem and arrested 146 people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. The Catholic nun who helped the families said now a year later, the Hispanic community in Salem is thriving.
“I don’t believe that they’re all stealing our jobs. If they were, Fresh Mark wouldn’t have a sign out there that says ‘we’re hiring,'” Sister Rene Weeks said.
For two months after the raid, Centro San Paulo — the Center at St. Paul’s — went from being open two days a week to five days a week, providing food, rental assistance and legal advice.
“They sort of came and just hung around, both inside and out on the grounds, just to be…in a place that felt safe and where they could be with other people,” Sister Rene said.
Of the 146 arrested on the afternoon of June 19, 2018, 60 were released within two days. Two months later, 13 were charged with falsifying identification papers. That left 73, many of whom Sister Rene said were later released, though she didn’t have an exact number.
“Either on immigration bonds or attorneys were able to start talking for them. There were a few who were deported.”
Some found other jobs around Salem, some moved and some returned to work at Fresh Mark, processing ham, bacon and hot dogs for the Sugardale brand.
“There are people who have legitimate documents. Both people who were caught in the raid, but then were able to go back to Fresh Mark because their documents were fine,” Sister Rene said.
A majority of the people arrested last year were Guatemalan.
Sister Rene said the Hispanic community around Salem has returned to some sense of normalcy since the raid and is, in fact, thriving.
“According to the school system, actually there’s more kids, more Hispanic kids in school right now than there were a year ago.”
Sister Rene still runs Centro San Paulo at Salem’s St. Paul church. She said it provides the type of services she would need if she moved to a foreign country.
It offers English classes, helps parents deal with school systems and offers summer programs for kids.
Sister Rene said she didn’t think it was necessary for ICE to go about the raid in the way it did. She called raids like that disruptive to families and though she doesn’t agree with them, she does understand them.
Fresh Mark released the following statement:
“Fresh Mark’s continued policy and practice is to validate the employment authorization and identity of all workers who join the company, for each of whom it completes an I-9 and confirms the documentation through E-Verify, the US Government system for validating I-9s.
Fresh Mark has also been a member of the voluntary IMAGE program (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers) since 2012. This program between the US Government and private employers ensures a lawful workforce.
To qualify for IMAGE certification, companies must perform the following requirements:
- Participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program
- Establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes internal Form I-9 audits at least once a year
- Submit to a Form I-9 inspection