From 9News.com, Jeffrey Wolf and Will Ripley, 1 Jun 2011.
FORT MORGAN [CO] – A dairy farm was the target of a raid by immigration officials and local authorities Wednesday. Law enforcement officers removed nearly all of the workers, suspected to be illegal immigrants. Some of them are facing criminal charges for using stolen identities.
Eleven men are being held without bond in the Morgan County jail on state charges of identity theft. One of the workers also had an outstanding warrant for car theft in California.
The other 40 or so workers who were in the country illegally but with no criminal record were allowed to go free.
The 11 workers in custody are accused of using fake documents to get jobs at the Wildcat Dairy, which was left nearly deserted after the raid.
9NEWS found pastures packed with cows, but almost nobody to feed them. A farmhand, who asked not to be named, said the farm lost more than 50 of its 60 employees. That amounts to 89 percent of the workers.
Fort Morgan Police Chief Keith Kuretich says officers from his agency, along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, worked to apprehend the 11 farm workers accused of identity theft. Charges included criminal impersonation and possession of forged social security and green cards.
“All had taken identifications belonging to other people,” Kuretich said.
Two of the workers were arrested at a house on the 400 block of Euclid Street in Fort Morgan. The homeowner, Jesus Avallos, says Fausto Palma and Freddy Rodriguez had been renting rooms from him for about a year.
“I’m surprised,” Avallos said. “They seemed like nice people. I never asked them for papers or anything.”
Avallos says at least one of the men said he was from El Salvador. According to ICE, most of the arrested workers are from Mexico, but the list also includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. All of the men allegedly assumed the identities of United States citizens.
“[We take this] seriously because of the impact it has on victims who have had their identification stolen,” Kuretich said.
Wildcat Dairy’s owner would not go on camera, but says he didn’t know his workers were illegal.
He says there remained only a small handful of men to care for 11,500 animals. The farmhand told us he’s worried some of the cows might starve.
“I need workers,” the farmhand said. “They took the best.”