In wake of ICE raid, Corso's denies knowingly hiring illegal workers

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - In a statement Friday, Corso's Flower & Garden Center said it is "fully complying" with a government investigation after more than 100 Corso's employees were arrested in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on Tuesday.

The letter noted that, as is the case with many other agricultural businesses, seasonal workers are vital to Corso's operations and that it "demands proper documentation from all those seeking employment at its facilities and also ensures that all employer taxes are properly paid."

"Just as Corso's has strived over the past 77 years to be honest and fair in its dealings with its employees, Corso's expects its employees to be honest with it as well. Corso's strives to comply with U.S. employment laws and therefore asks its employees and prospective employees for honest and legitimate identification and documentation," the statement read.

"If mistakes were made or if anyone used false, fraudulent, or otherwise disingenuous documents or other documents to secure employment at Corso's, the company was not aware of those things."

The company also expressed concern about reports of "alleged poor treatment of our employees during the arrest process, including an apparent lack of information provided by federal authorities to family members of those arrested. It is our hope that federal authorities will work diligently to ensure minimal disruption to families of our employees as they execute their orders."

Also on Friday, the ACLU of Ohio implored federal lawmakers to prevent the deportation of people detained during the raid in Sandusky.

ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, and Reps. Jim Jordan, Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan, urging immediate action to prevent the expedited deportation of dozens of immigrants following the June 5 raid in Sandusky, in which 114 workers were arrested while at work at Corso's. Another ICE raid took place simultaneously at the company's Castalia location. The ACLU of Ohio urged the federal legislators to "immediately intervene for the sake of dozens of Ohio immigrants, as expedited deportations could happen in a matter of days."

"We urge Ohio Senators and Representatives to take immediate action and ensure that no one is deported without access to an attorney and full due process in an immigration court. We have an opportunity to right this horrible wrong, but we must take immediate action. The events on June 5 are not irreparable, and we have the opportunity to alleviate the tremendous suffering of our Ohio neighbors, by ensuring full due process under the law," said ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner.

The men detained during the raid were sent to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private prison in Youngstown, and the detained women were sent to a facility in Calhoun, Michigan. Just four days after nationwide protests to protect immigrant families and end family separation, ICE conducted the largest Ohio raid in over a decade. Dozens of children were left stranded, and their parents could be fast-tracked for deportation.

"The federal government inserted itself into a small Ohio community instilling fear, panic, and chaos that will have long-lasting effects on our immigrant neighbors, family members, and friends. Over 200 heavily armed officers came to Sandusky to deliver a clear message, 'immigrants are not welcome here.' We must not let this happen unchallenged and urge our elected officials to stand up to ICE and stop the expedited deportation of Ohio residents," said Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Tuesday's raid in Sandusky was coupled with an announcement that the U.S. Attorney's office in northern Ohio planned to add staff focused on increasing immigration enforcement. The same office disbanded its civil rights department in 2017.

On Thursday, two local groups rallied in Downtown Toledo in response to the ICE raids.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality both work with migr ant agriculture workers. On Thursday, those groups said Tuesday's raids were merely another chapter in a long story of migr ant worker repression.

In the lobby of One Government Center, members of FLOC and ABLE denounced the large federal operation that led to the arrest of 114 workers in Erie County.

These groups said the raid was a publicity stunt, to further an anti-immigration agenda.

"A lot of the minimally informed people in this country get these sound bites and they think they're all MS-13 and gang members and so on. So, I think we have to change that perception," said Baldemar Velasquez, president of FLOC.

"Every one of them has a particular set of facts. You can't do a broad brush that all of them are 'undocumented,'" said Jesus Salas, senior attorney at ABLE.

In the crowd were many local officials who feel the raids put Ohio in a bad light on the international stage. The crime of identity theft doesn't match with the use of force in arresting those suspects, they said.

"If we're going to go pick up everyone with a fake ID, you might want to go to every college bar in Columbus or Bowling Green. A fake ID is not a crime that you respond to with guards, guns, arms and raids," said Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.

Tony Gallagher, a retired Toledo priest, wanted to challenge the community on where their values truly lie in regard to helping those in need.

"I think the citizens of Northwest Ohio have to ask, does this represent our authentic American values? And if we're a person of faith, does it represent the values of our faith?" Gallagher asked.

The representatives from ABLE said they are working to schedule a one-on-one meeting with as many of those workers arrested to ensure they are made aware of their rights moving forward in this process.

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