The former owner of a Tennessee meat processing plant that was the site of a massive immigration raid where nearly 100 people were arrested last year was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
James Brantley, who previously owned the Southeastern Provision meat processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, was also given three years of probation upon release from prison at his sentencing Wednesday. Brantley pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion, wire fraud and employing undocumented immigrants.
"I cannot impose a probationary sentence in this case," Senior U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer said Wednesday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. "In my view, to do so would undermine respect for our court system and create a situation where people would draw the conclusion that a certain class of people are treated more leniently than others."
Brantley dodged nearly $1.3 million in taxes, according to court records.
In April of 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 97 people in a massive work place enforcement raid. At the time it was the biggest work side raid since a 2008 raid in Postville, Iowa, where nearly 400 immigrants were detained at a slaughterhouse. Since the Tennessee raid, the Trump administration has escalated its use of mass worksite raids.
Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said it was important to hold employers like Brantley accountable, and said that the nature of the massive raid upended families and devastated communities.
“Our government should focus on enforcing the labor rights that protect all workers in this country — the rights to a safe workplace, free from wage theft and discrimination,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “But instead of focusing enforcement on the employer, ICE made a decision to engage in the most aggressive, violent form of enforcement it could take at this worksite.”
“We can hold employers like Brantley accountable for their misconduct, without punishing workers with militaristic raids that are deeply disruptive to local communities, leave children stranded without their parents, terrify entire communities, and devastate local economies,” she said.
Teatro said the use of such raids allows employers to continue to exploit undocumented workers.
“When employers and the government hold the threat of deportation above workers’ heads, they are less likely to report dangerous conditions like those that persisted at Southeastern Provision,” she said.
Teatro told NBC News on Thursday morning that many of the arrested workers “are still in the same limbo” they have been in since the immediate aftermath of the raid.
Of those arrested, 71 people are still awaiting their hearings, nine were ordered deported, 15 signed for their voluntary departure and two remain in federal custody, she said.
In February, the National Immigration Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of workers detained during the raid, claiming federal agents violated their constitutional rights.
The suit, which names nine federal officials and includes 30 unnamed ICE agents, seeks monetary and punitive damages.
The groups involved in the lawsuit filed a motion earlier this week seeking to bring in the United States as a defendant in the case and the suit remains ongoing.