Federal judge approves class action statute for immigrant slaughterhouse workers suing federal agents – Tennessee Lookout
A judge this week rejected a federal government bid to force each of the 104 Grainger County slaughterhouse workers rounded up in a legally suspicious raid to file a lawsuit against officers accused of targeting them solely in because of their race or ethnicity.
U.S. District Judge Travis McDonough on Tuesday agreed to grant class-action status in a lawsuit originally filed on behalf of a handful of the 104 Hispanic workers at the Southeastern Provision slaughterhouse in Bean Station affected by the April 2018 raid. .
The Justice Department, which represents dozens of federal agents in the case, has been fighting for months now to avoid class-action designation. If the DOJ prevails, it would mean every worker — even those expelled after the raid — would be forced to hire attorneys and pursue individual lawsuits, a costly process that could drag on for years.
But McDonough said there is ample evidence that federal agents targeted all Hispanic workers at the plant as part of a unique plan to turn what was supposed to be a search for evidence of tax evasion by the slaughterhouse owner in the largest immigration raid in recent Tennessee history.
“All members of the group are Latinos and were, according to (the original lawsuit), targeted for this reason,” McDonough wrote in the order. “They were all detained and taken to the (nearby National Guard) armory for treatment… The officers were all trained on the same policy and the same plan, and all members of the class were subjected to the same treatment according to this plan.
“The class mechanism is likely the only way for those injured in the raid to file a complaint,” the order said. “The…members of the class have low incomes and are geographically dispersed across the United States and South and Central America, and many lack the English skills necessary to navigate the US legal system…The court said hard to believe that the damages in this case would be so great that it would spur frightened evictees to come forward, find a lawyer, and sue the appropriate parties.
Records reviewed by the Tennessee Lookout show that the factory raid, which made national headlines and prompted at least one documentary, was not meant to be an immigration raid at all, and workers at the factory weren’t meant to be targets.
The court finds it hard to believe that the damages in this case would be so great that they would cause frightened evictees to come forward, find a lawyer and sue the appropriate parties.
– U.S. District Judge Travis McDonough
Instead, an IRS agent told a federal magistrate days before the raid that he and other agents wanted permission to enter the factory to collect records for use in an investigation of tax evasion against factory owner James Brantley.
But court records show that federal agents and prosecutors had met for months before the search warrant request to plan a roundup of Latinos working at the plant as part of the president’s campaign promise. time, Donald Trump, to crack down on illegal immigration.
White workers at the plant were allowed to roam freely, while all Hispanic workers were detained, handcuffed and held for hours without any evidence of wrongdoing, court records show. Dozens were deported.
Lawyers “satisfied” with the decision
Lawyers for nonprofit groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center, filed suit in 2019 on behalf of about six of these workers against the agents and the U.S. government, alleging a conspiracy to violate the rights to equal protection and due process guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
The lawsuit alleges that Hispanic workers were not only targeted because of their race and ethnicity, but were subjected to humiliation and, in at least two cases, beatings.
Lawyers for the nonprofit groups pushed McDonough to classify that initial lawsuit as a class action, which would allow them to mount a single case on behalf of all affected workers.
In a statement released Thursday, the two nonprofit legal groups welcomed McDonough’s decision.
“This raid was carried out in an unnecessarily violent, humiliating and demeaning manner toward Latino workers,” Michelle Lapointe, senior counsel for the National Immigration Law Center, said in the statement. “We are pleased that the court is allowing the case to proceed as a class action and we look forward to proving our claims in court.”
Meredith Stewart, supervising senior counsel at Southern Poverty Law Center Meredith, said the decision “is an important step in our fight for justice for our clients and their families.”
“The Constitution protects everyone from abuse by law enforcement and (workers) are eager to enforce those rights in court,” Stewart said.