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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated removal proceedings against 28 employees of an Alma food processing plant who the agency accused of being unlawfully in the United States, an agency spokesman said Thursday.

Of the 28 Bryant Preserving Co. employees who were detained in a Homeland Security Investigations raid Wednesday, seven will remain in federal custody until they go before a judge in immigration court, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said. They will be held at a detention facility in Louisiana.

The immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United is working with the families of those facing deportation to ensure they know their rights and is helping them get legal representation and bail if necessary, the group's executive director Mireya Reith said on Thursday.

"Arkansas United continues to oppose the ramp-up in ICE's activities in Arkansas, which is instilling terror in our community and disrupting our economy and all other elements of social life," Reith wrote in a statement Wednesday.

The seven were kept in custody after questioning by Homeland Security Investigations as part of a federal criminal investigation at the Bryant Preserving plant Wednesday morning, Cox said. He wouldn't comment on specific charges.

The decision to detain the seven employees was based on the "totality of circumstances," he said. That included such things as whether the person was a flight risk, family circumstances, whether a woman was a nursing mother, prior removal and prior criminal history.

Bryant Preserving said in a statement several of the plant employees detained Wednesday were accused of document and identity fraud.

The remaining 21 who were released from custody will be notified when to appear in immigration court. Cox said because the courts are overcrowded, it typically takes months before a case goes before a judge.

Removal cases that originate in Arkansas generally are heard at the Memphis Immigration Court, Amanda St Jean, regional public information officer for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said in an email Thursday.

St Jean said in the email the removal process begins when the Department of Homeland Security initiates the proceedings and serves an individual with a charging document, or notice to appear. The charging document is then filed with one of the Executive Office for Immigration Review courts.

When the immigration court receives the charging document, it issues a notice of hearing so the individual can have an initial master calendar hearing before an immigration judge, St Jean wrote. In that hearing, the judge explains the individual's rights, the alleged immigration law violations and addresses representation.

After one or more hearings, St Jean said, the judge will decide whether the person will be removed or allowed to stay in the country. That decision can be appealed by the government or the individual to the Board of Immigration Appeals, St Jean wrote.

Cox would not say Thursday whether Bryant Preserving is being investigated for violations of federal immigration laws and referred the question to the U.S. attorney's office, which declined to comment.

Bryant Preserving said in a statement Wednesday that it was not being investigated. It said it followed all mandated verification procedures and that it used EVerify, describing it as a federal web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

NW News on 09/14/2018

Print Headline: 28 Alma plant workers face deportation

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