Monday, June 30, 2008

Brief Commentary on the Fate of Employers after Raids

During this past week, ICE conducted at least two more worksite raids. One took place in Arlington, Washington at the Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies, after an audit indicated that some of the company’s workers used fake documents.  Thirty-two workers were arrested in that raid.  Earlier in the week, ICE conducted a much larger raid at Action Rags USa, a rag-sorting factory that employed mostly female workers.  That raid netted 166 undocumented workers.

ICE statistics reveal that as of May 2008 the agency conducted more than 2,900 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations.  In an unprecedented move, 775 workers have been criminally charged and most convicted of aggravated identify theft and Social Security fraud.  ICE also states that 75 owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees are facing charges of harboring or knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Indeed, after almost each raid, news stories emphasize ICE’s intent to go after the employer, in addition to the workers. It is unclear, however, how many, if any, of these employers are actually convicted.

Truth is that hardly ever are employers convicted after these raids. According to ICE’s own annual reports, in fiscal 2007 the agency secured fines and forfeitures of more than $30 million in worksite enforcement cases. ICE, however, did not provide statistics on the number of employers criminally charged nor convicted last year.

Statistical silence on the issue of employer criminal sanctions is not surprising.  Truth is that ICE does not spend many of its resources prosecuting employers, despite what is reported in the media immediately after a raid. And the reality of how raids are conducted suggests that employer prosecutions are hardly a priority.  Otherwise, why would the government remove and convict practically all the witnesses it needs to build a case against the employer – the workers themselves.

Take the Postville raid, for example. Even before the raid, Agriprocessors faced investigations and fines from federal and state environmental and labor agencies for multiple violations of workplace safety, child labor, environmental and immigration law.  But so, far, no sight at all that any Agriprocessors owners or employees face charges. As Jeff Abbas, of KPVL radio in Postville, IOWA tells me, “[n]ot even a whisper of charges against the plant owners.”  Instead, what Abbas observes is heavy recruitment by the company of another crop of disposable workers.  Abbas describes that the company is going to places like El Paso and bringing back a bunch of workers, many of them homeless, and putting them in company housing at rents that are much higher than the standard in the town. Today, Congressional leaders seek answers. Letters to the U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies from Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Bruce Braley (D-IA), Phil Hare (D-IL), George Miller (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) seek answers from the Bush Administration about its handling of the Postville raid.  But unfortunately, none of this makes national media.  And so the message for many who support raids is that there are actually working.

But what does “working” mean? If it simply means a horrid fate for the undocumented workers and their families caught in the raids, then yes.  But if it means actually improving jobs and work conditions for U.S. workers or deterrence of bad practices by U.S. employers, then think again!


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Related article about why it's harder to convict employers:

Must prove they knew

Undocumented workers often face quick prosecution for so-called ''status crimes" such as being in the country illegally — charges that are easy to prove. Many of those arrested quickly plead guilty and serve sentences averaging as little as a month. But to convict employers, federal prosecutors must show that they knowingly hired undocumented immigrants, a threshold that demands more evidence.

"You have to show that the employer knowingly and willingly hired an illegal," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, a former Justice Department official. "A lot of these guys carry multiple Social Security cards" — making it difficult for employers to determine whether they are legally in the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose Cabinet department handles immigration enforcement, defended the two-tiered practice of arresting undocumented workers at worksites while taking time to assemble criminal cases against employers.

"When we find evidence of persistent, widespread hiring of illegals, we're going in to try to build a case against the employer if there's a case to be built," said Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge.

Federal prosecutors often take years to put together cases against employers.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 3, 2008 3:02:40 AM

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