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Growers, attorneys need plan to respond to unexpected

Do you have a plan for how to respond when ICE shows up at the farm or processing facility?  

Brandon Davis says that by the time Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have conducted an investigation of a farm or food processing plant or sugarcane mill and have decided to stage a raid, the government has about $200,000 invested in the action.

Davis, who represents farmers and ag-related commercial entities on immigration issues, says that’s one reason his firm, Phelps Dunbar LLP in New Orleans, ensures its clients have a plan for how to respond when ICE shows up at the farm or processing facility.

“What happens if the feds show up wanting to enforce a warrant at your place,” said Davis, a speaker at the Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference in Memphis. “Who’s on your response team? Who’s supposed to be there to answer the door for the FBI or the U.S. marshals or whoever it is?

“It’s not really so much getting everything right as it is thinking through these issues that take place in the dead of night. Lawyers have to understand the situation, we have to know our magistrates, and we have to have an understanding of what the criminal piece is.”

Davis says he’s still not sure why he had the presence of mind to ask to see the warrant when he arrived at his client’s manufacturing facility at 5 a.m. after federal agents showed up and began rounding up workers and demanding to see the clients files and unplugging and taking their computers.

“These are big federal guys, and I’m a 27- or 28-year-old lawyer,” he said, imitating a squeaky small voice. “Uh, can I see the warrant please?”

After reading the warrant, Davis said he realized the warrant did not cover the computers that agents were attempting to remove from the office.

“I don’t think you can take those computers, put them down,” he said in a firmer voice. “‘What are you talking about?’” came the response. “It’s not in the warrant,” Davis replied.

“It’s a matter of knowing your rights,” he said. “Make your clients aware that they can say ‘Well, hold on, this is John Henry Thibodaux’s place. This is our property. He has a right to know what you’re doing here. It’s knowing how to deal with something in real-time that can be very scary.”

By the time an agency stages such a raid “they have a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the investigation,” he said. “Various agencies are heavily invested in getting the win. It’s not like it’s going anywhere.”

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