Workers detained in massive Tennessee raid sue ICE officers – NBCNews.com

By Daniella Silva

April 5 of last year began like any other day for Martha Pulido. But after arriving at her job in a meatpacking plant near Morristown in East Tennessee, she suddenly heard officers yelling at workers to put up their hands, she said.

“From one moment to the next, the plant turned to chaos,” Pulido said in Spanish. Immigration officers yelled and dashed throughout the plant, she said. She could hear helicopters.

At the time, it was the largest work-site raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in nearly a decade, with nearly 100 workers taken into custody on suspicion of being in the country illegally.

On Thursday, two advocacy groups and a law firm filed a lawsuit against immigration officers, accusing them of unlawful searches and arrests, racial profiling and excessive force.

“When a raid of this scale happens in our communities, it’s like a bomb goes off,” Stephanie Teatro, executive co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said during a news teleconference Thursday announcing the lawsuit.

Attorneys said it was the first lawsuit against a large-scale work-site raid conducted by the Trump administration.

In the aftermath of the raid, hundreds of people gathered at a church, desperately trying to find their family members, and nearly 600 children from the district missed school.

“As the tragedy and chaos unfolded on that day, it was a painful reminder of why the government had stopped using this egregious enforcement tactic almost a decade before,” Teatro said.

Pulido said one of her co-workers slipped and fell, and immigration officers “drew their guns at her.” She said she saw one officer hit an employee in the face and another push a colleague.

Martha PulidoIsaias Guerrero

“Why the excessive use of arms and violence? The only thing we were doing was making a living to support our families,” she said.

The suit was filed in federal court in Knoxville by the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt and Harbison on behalf of seven named workers and about 100 unnamed ones who were detained during the raid. The suit, which names nine federal officials and includes 30 unnamed ICE agents, claims the workers’ rights were violated and seeks monetary and punitive damages.