A man killed in an industrial accident at the Canton plant in December was a Guatemalan who worked at the plant with several family members for more than a year.

Federal agents said they have been investigating immigration violations involving employees at Fresh Mark's meat processing plants for more than a year.

That's roughly six months before a Guatemalan national was killed in an industrial accident in December working under an assumed name at the Canton plant.

On Tuesday, immigration agents descended on Fresh Mark plants in Columbiana and Stark counties.

The number of those arrested had grown to 146 people, "primarily from Guatemala," on immigration violations, Khaalid Walls, regional director of communications for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Wednesday.

Of those, 98 are men and 48 are women, and all of them were arrested in Salem, he said.

He could not supply a list of names.

"For privacy reasons, we do not provide lists of individuals facing only immigration violations. Immigration arrests records are not public record like local or federal criminal charges," Walls said.

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A news release from ICE Tuesday night stated the Homeland Security Investigations Unit went first on Tuesday to Fresh Mark's Salem plant with a criminal search warrant and then three other locations with federal document search warrants. The locations were listed as 1600 Harmont Ave. NE in Canton, and Massillon locations at 950 Cloverleaf Street and 1888 Southway St. SW.

All of those detained were taken to a federal processing facility, the location of which wasn't listed in the news release. Those not in the country legally will be taken to Michigan and Ohio facilities to await their removal from the United States. Reports said the children of those detained were taken to a Salem church. First Christian Church posted a Facebook message Wednesday thanking the community for it support.

"We are so grateful for the tremendous support of our church people and the larger Salem Community that has been offered to our friends in the Hispanic community recently. Thankfully all of the kids have been placed into safe and caring hands until they can be reunited with their families. Please pray that this can happen as soon as possible," the message reads.

ICE said its action "is part of a yearlong, ongoing HSI investigation based on evidence that Fresh Mark may have knowingly hired illegal aliens at its meat processing and packaging facility, and that many of these aliens are utilizing fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens."

"Unlawful employment is one of the key magnets drawing illegal aliens across our borders," said Steve Francis, HSI special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio. "Businesses who knowingly harbor and hire illegal aliens as a business model must be held accountable for their actions."

It was unclear whether more arrests are possible.

 

There did not appear to be any ICE action Wednesday morning at the Canton and Massillon plants, and it appeared they were operating. A spokesperson referred questions to federal investigators.

With regard to hiring policies and international applicants, Brittany Julian, director of corporate communications for Fresh Mark Inc., said in an emailed response to a Canton Repository request, "Fresh Mark was the first company in Ohio to partner with ICE in the voluntary IMAGE program (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers). This program between the U.S. Government and private employers ensures a lawful workforce. To qualify for IMAGE certification, we do the following: 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; (and) submit to a Form I-9 inspection."

She added, "We do not have any additional information at this time."

Previous incidents

Julian told the Repository in December that Domingo Alonzo Ramos had been working for the company for more than year when he was killed in an industrial accident at the Canton plant. 

Ramos was a Guatemalan who worked at the plant with several family members. He had been previously pegged for deportation and living under a fake name, investigators have said. Domingo Alonzo Ramos was going by the name of Samuel Martinez.

He was was killed in December when he was dragged into a grinding machine. Stark County Coroner's Office investigator Rick Walters said Ramos died when his foot became trapped in an auger. The machine, which grinds meat scraps for garbage, took off his leg.

Authorities did not know Ramos’ true identity until his family went to a local funeral home to arrange the return of his body to Guatemala so he could be buried in the family cemetery, Walters said at the time.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also looking into a May 16, 2017, incident. An employee cleaning bacon vacuum lines noticed a piece of meat hanging from a conveyor and reached to remove it, inadvertently pulling out the machine guard. The worker lost the tip of one of his fingers. OSHA's review remained open as of Wednesday, its website shows.

Its website also shows OSHA opened an investigation Sept. 28 into an undisclosed incident at the company's Salem plant.

 

Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or lori.steineck@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @lsteineckREP