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17 Arrested At Nebraska Meatpacking Plant

Seventeen people were in federal custody Wednesday as part of ongoing investigation of Fremont Beef meatpacking plant by immigration officials, authorities said.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Seventeen people were in federal custody Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation of a Fremont meatpacking plant by immigration officials, authorities said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Greg Palmore said the 17 were arrested Tuesday at Fremont Beef Company for immigration violations.

Immigration agents performed an "enforcement action" -- not a raid -- to determine whether Fremont Beef is complying with immigration laws, he said. No further information is available, he said.

Fremont Beef president Les Leech said in a statement issued Wednesday that his company was among a thousand nationwide that were randomly selected for immigration audits. The names of Fremont Beef workers were entered in the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft database, which showed 18 matches, he said. Those workers were taken in for questioning.

Palmore said he wasn't sure how many were questioned, but 17 were taken into custody.

Leech said he's previously requested access to the FTC database, but has been denied. So, Fremont Beef uses the government's E-Verify system for all new hires.

"We have been doing, and will continue to do, everything legally possible to ensure the work authorization of our work force," Leech said. "Unfortunately, the system that we have access to just isn't perfect.

Illegal immigration has been a hot topic in Fremont, which is among a handful of Nebraska cities that have seen marked demographic changes primarily because of Hispanic work forces at meatpacking plants.

A group of Fremont residents are pushing for a special election on a proposal to ban renting to and hiring illegal immigrants within city limits. But city officials are seeking to block the election because they say the ordinance would conflict with federal law and lead to costly litigation. The Nebraska Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case.

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