A senior political appointee from the Trump administration still employed at a federal safety agency investigating a fatal chemical disaster at a Georgia poultry plant has been in communication with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a highly unusual move, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has learned from multiple sources in touch with agency insiders. Details of the communication are closely held inside the agency and unknown to POGO. Sources tell POGO that plant workers—many of whom allegedly are undocumented—fear being arrested or monitored by ICE while going to and from witness interviews.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is an independent agency responsible for investigating industrial chemical accidents and is commonly referred to as the Chemical Safety Board. But that work at the Gainesville, Georgia, poultry plant could be hamstrung if ICE becomes involved. The fear of an ICE presence is already chilling worker participation in the investigation.
Word of the agency’s contact with ICE has spread to local advocates who have warned that any appearance of ICE involvement will potentially undermine the Chemical Safety Board’s investigation into the January 28 disaster that killed six.
Sources told POGO that the appointee, senior advisor Bruce Walker, advised Chemical Safety Board leadership against providing assurances to Latino advocacy groups that undocumented workers cooperating with the agency would be protected from ICE, because he had already been directly in touch with ICE. Sources also said Walker was aware that plainclothes immigration officers could be monitoring Chemical Safety Board activities, such as witness interviews held at local hotels.
To date, there have been no reports of workers being arrested near interview sites by ICE or local law enforcement, who participate in a controversial ICE program allowing them to enforce federal immigration laws. But a report last Thursday by Prism, a nonprofit newsroom, states that investigators working for Foundation Food Group, which owns the poultry plant, “are grilling the survivors about their nationality and immigration status.” Foundation Food Group did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Just an infuriating story. There’s so much we need to reckon with from the Trump years. Abolishing ICE should be a central demand, no matter how it might poll with moderates. They are simply wrong and need to be taught.