With new enforcement priorities under the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are taking aim at employers that knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants. The most recent — and largest — bust happened at a trailer manufacturing plant in northeast Texas.
By John Burnett
Business had been booming at Load Trail LLC, about two hours northeast of Dallas, as customers bought the black trailers to haul hay bales, topsoil, construction refuse and oilfield equipment. Then came the ICE raid in late August.
Inside Load Trail’s huge production building, welders turn raw steel into trailers, amid cacophonous clanging and showers of sparks. It’s brutish labor — cut the heavy black metal, lug it into place, arc-weld it, repeat — but the production floor is nearly half-empty because of an acute shortage of welders.
Load Trail CEO Kevin Hiebert remembers the morning of Aug. 28, when a helicopter thumped overhead and 300 ICE agents swarmed into his yard. “It looked like something you would typically see in the movies,” he said, “not something you ever planned on living out in real life.”
ICE rounded up more than 150 employees — nearly a quarter of Hiebert’s workforce — loaded them into buses and booked them for working in the country unlawfully. A criminal investigation of the company continues.
So far this year, ICE agents have stormed 7-Eleven stores, a meatpacking plant, dairy and vegetable farms and a feedlot.
“Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses. In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents,” said Katrina Berger, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in the Dallas ICE office.
But you won’t hear those complaints in Tigertown, Texas. This flyspeck community situated between cotton fields near the Oklahoma border is home to a half-dozen major trailer manufacturers — all competitors. And they all employ undocumented workers.