Employers Unscathed in Raids

New enforcement approach targets workers rather than companies


The flood from the border will continue unless government begins to hold companies accountable, say policy critics.

Homeland Security chiefs hailed last week’s raids on Swift & Co.
meatpacking plants as examples of newly aggressive work-site
enforcement against companies that rely on illegal foreign labor.

But the black-clad agents who stormed facilities in Colorado and in
five other states arrested only workers, leaving the managers who
hired them untouched. That’s increasingly the pattern in the
government’s new approach: targeting workers without holding
companies themselves accountable, as required by law, according to
government data and interviews with experts.

Fines against employers for hiring illegal workers have all but
ceased, data show, though authorities recently prosecuted a handful
of managers and executives successfully.

Until Congress demands a worker status-verification system and
enforcement that can really hold companies accountable, critics
contend, millions of job-seeking illegal immigrants can’t be

“It has become apparent how employers are complicit in this
illegal-immigration picture,” said Doris Meissner, chief of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000, now a
senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

“In a case like (the one involving Swift) where you are just
arresting the workers, it demonstrates how inadequate current
employer enforcement really is in reducing the availability of
jobs. The plant is up and running again,” said Meissner.

No charges had been filed against Swift officials Friday in the
crackdown on alleged identity-theft crimes involving suspected
illegal workers at slaughterhouses in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota,
Nebraska, Texas and Utah.

Some 1,300 workers were arrested, more than 100 for investigation
of possible criminal offenses. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
agents this weekend continued to question detainees, building a
case that federal prosecutors await.

The raids Tuesday brought total work-site enforcement arrests
nationwide to 4,383 this year – more than triple the 1,292 last

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared “a new
record this past year for work-site enforcement,” noting that more
than 700 of this year’s arrests were for investigation of criminal
immigration violations.

Yet the number of employers fined each year for hiring illegal
workers has plummeted from 1,023 in 1998 to only three in 2004, the
last year for which data were given.

“We’re not really doing fines anymore,” ICE spokesman Marc
Raimondi said in Washington, D.C.

Fines against companies “were almost seen as a cost of doing
business and were not seen as effective. We prefer to conduct
criminal investigations,” Raimondi said. “We’re having
unprecedented successes in conducting work-site enforcement investigations.”

On Thursday, two executives of a California fencebuilding company
pleaded guilty to hiring unauthorized workers.

In October, the president and two executives of two
temporary-labor companies pleaded guilty in Ohio to conspiring to
provide hundreds of illegal workers to an air cargo firm.

In July, officials at Kentucky-based corporations pleaded guilty
to immigration and money-laundering charges in an operation that
supplied illegal workers to Holiday Inn, Days Inn and other hotels
in Kentucky.

Also in July, Fischer Homes subcontractors pleaded guilty to
harboring illegal immigrants for construction work in Kentucky.

Two high-profile crackdowns this year included raids in Colorado,
yet those cases still are pending.

ICE officials have filed charges against seven officials of
Houston-based IFCO Systems North America, which supplied wooden
pallets. ICE agents arrested 1,187 IFCO workers nationwide after a
year-long probe that found more than half of IFCO’s workers in 2005
had invalid or mismatched Social Security numbers.

No information was available on the status of a case in which
dozens of suspected illegal workers for Hunt Building Co.
subcontractors were deported after raids at a military-housing
construction site near top-secret installations east of Denver.

The problem is that, despite a few exceptions, federal immigration
agents in general “aren’t doing the regular work of going after
the employers who hire illegal (workers). They’re trying for only
very spectacular things,” said Steve Camarota, research director
at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors
tougher enforcement.

“Americans are harmed by this, the Americans who have to send
their kids to overcrowded schools because of illegal aliens, the
Americans who face the job competition, who tend to be the poorest,
least-educated and most vulnerable American workers. The Americans
who are uninsured and don’t get health care because of all the
illegal aliens who need it,” he said.

It’s now well accepted among immigration experts that jobs are the
magnet that draws illegal workers from low-income countries into
the United States.

But employers who hire illegal workers “should be punished,” said
Meissner, the former INS chief. But holding them fairly accountable
requires a better status-verification and ID system, she said.

“If you are really going to have employer enforcement work,
everybody who applies for work, including U.S. citizens, has to
have an ID with biometric information. I believe most employers
want a reliable system – on the condition that they also have
access to labor.”