SUMNER, Texas - Federal agents raided a Lamar County manufacturing plant while investigating whether or not the company hired undocumented immigrants.
FOX 4 News was on scene Tuesday morning when Homeland Security helicopters circled the perimeter of Load Trail, a trailer company in Sumner, which is near Paris. Nearly 300 federal agents descended upon the plant.
Immigration authorities and Homeland Security agents raided the manufacturing facility that employs about 500 people. About 160 suspected illegal immigrants were arrested and taken to detention facilities across Texas and Oklahoma.
With criminal search warrants in hand, investigators raided the 100-acre site. Employees who spoke to FOX 4 say they were interviewed by ICE agents and then released. They describes a chaotic scene.
“It was so chaotic. You don’t know which way to go,” said worker Shawn Patterson. “I mean, I turn one way and I got guns drawn on me. So I just be still.”
Patterson says employees scattered when the agents came in.
“They put us all in lines, from the illegals to the U.S. citizens,” Patterson said. “And they wouldn’t let us leave until they put a band around.”
“Immigration here. People running everywhere. Hiding in trailers and stuff. Pulling guns, and everything,” said worker Jarvis Hill. “They handled you rough, man! Even though they’re illegal, I feel sorry for them — how they got handled.”
Agents searched through acres of stored trailers looking for workers who were hiding, like one man who was handcuffed and taken into custody.
After a couple of hours, roughly 100 workers were sent home.
According to HSI Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger, investigators received information the company may have knowingly hired illegal immigrants. About 160 employees were detained that allegedly used fake identification documents to work.
“With those numbers, this is one of the larger work site enforcement operations conducted at one site in the past 10 years,” she said.
Berger would not say if the owners of the company or members of its management team were arrested, citing the open criminal investigation.
The arrested employees were put on buses and taken to three area detention facilities where they will be further interviewed by ICE agents.
Christian Lopez works the night shift at Load Trail. He said he just doesn’t know if he’ll have a job to go to anymore. He says four of his uncles have been arrested. Two of them have worked at Load Trail for 15 years. He says his uncles are illegal, but they also have families who now no longer have a provider.
“I’m worried about them. About the families,” Lopez said. “I don’t know how that’s gonna work out.”
“Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses,” Berger said in a press release. “In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents, and they create an atmosphere poised for exploiting their illegal workforce.”
Berger says five of the 160 arrestees were processed and released since they are sole caregivers. Like the others, they'll have to appear before an immigration judge who will determine their fate.
This isn't the first time the company has been in trouble. According to an ICE report, the company paid a $445,000 fine in 2014 for hiring dozens of undocumented immigrants to work in its plant.