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Agency has feelings, waits until after holiday to raid turkey farm

PLAINVILLE, N.Y. (AP - 12-01-00) - Like the Grinch, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service showed it can have a big heart, too.

Although federal immigration agents had the proof they needed three weeks ago that 16 Mexican nationals were working illegally at Plainville Farm's turkey processing plant, the agency waited at the company's request until after Thanksgiving to make its bust.

INS agents arrested the 16 workers Wednesday morning on charges of being in the United States illegally and using phony documentation to get the jobs.

Frances Holmes, the INS's district director, admitted Friday it was probably unusual for the agency to grant a request from an employer to let illegal workers keep working. But Plainville Farms' owners had cooperated in the INS investigation, she said.

''We're not insensitive. We don't want to ruin their business,'' Holmes said. ''Most employers aren't willing to work with us to begin with. They were. And it was a part of them being willing to work with us that we worked with them.''

Plainville Farms' president Mark Bitz declined to comment on the request for the delay.

Holmes said Plainville Farms officials were unaware that the workers were illegal aliens when they were hired.

The INS took 15 of the workers to its detention center in Batavia, where they will be held on charges of using fake documentation and being in the U.S. illegally. One of the workers was released because she's a mother with children to care for, Holmes said.

The group could go before an Immigration Court judge by next week. The INS will ask the judge to deport the workers for using phony documentation, she said.

Plainville Farms is the state's largest turkey farm. It raises more than 500,000 a year on a 1,500-acre farm located 15 miles northwest of Syracuse.

AP-ES-12-01-00 1318EST !--END-->