State officials launch investigation into Windom pork plant for possible wage theft
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is investigating HyLife Foods in Windom for potential wage and hour violations, including unpaid wages. The new investigation could offer hundreds of former HyLife immigrant visa workers a way to stay in the U.S. legally.
Earlier this month, 5 EYEWITNESS News reported that nearly 500 visa immigrant workers at HyLife Foods were terminated from their job after the pork plant filed for bankruptcy. The closure left those foreign workers ten days to either find a different employer that accepts H2B visa employees or go back to their country.
Owner of Kivu Law and immigration lawyer Erin Schutte Wadzinski has been a critical resource for those facing immigration challenges. Most recently, Schutte Wadzinski has given guidance to those that were laid off at HyLife Foods.
“The uncertainty of it all has really taken a toll on individuals,” said Schutte Wadzinski. “They were sent into a scramble to explore other avenues to maintain lawful status in the United States.”
The immigration lawyer said she’s read the June 6 letter the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) sent to Homeland Security. In part, the letter states, “The exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the granting of work authorization would be vital in this investigation to instill in impacted workers the necessary security and stability to continue to exercise their rights and to assist in DLI’s investigation.”
In other words, DLI is asking Homeland Security to accept their letter so former HyLife H2B visa workers can use it to apply for deferred action.
“Deferred action is an immigration status that protects an individual from deportation, as well as providing them work authorization to legally be employed in the United States,” explained Schutte Wadzinski.
Earlier this month, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke to HyLife immigrant workers who called the closure a disaster.
“We have families. They are depending on our earnings here. It’s still very sad for us; right now, we are still in shock. We don’t know what to do. We start all over again,” said one former employee.
While some immigrant workers already flew back to their country, others have begun the process to maintain lawful status here through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS).
“An applicant must take the necessary steps to submit a complete application to USCIS, and that would need to be approved before someone obtains deferred action,” Schutte Wadzinski said.
She added that it’s been an emotional time for those terminated from HyLife, as the closure was more than just losing employment.
“It was their loss of status in the United States, the loss of permission to remain in this country,” Schutte Wadzinski told us.
HyLife did not immediately get back to us for comment.
The Department of Labor and Industry said they have no public data responsive to our request.
As for the Hylife Foods pork plant, an Iowa-based company purchased it but did not retain its workers.