Illegal-Hiring Crackdown

Immigration battle switches gears, feds say


The raids on IFCO Systems, including a local facility, may signal a
tough new era for employers.

Federal agents raided a Colorado work yard and arrested 38 Mexican
men – and 1,149 others nationwide – launching what the government
cast as an aggressive campaign against employers who hire illegal
foreign workers.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Thursday declared:
“Employers and workers alike should be on notice that the status
quo has changed.”

After years of lax work-site enforcement, the immigration sting
targeting pallet-supply company IFCO Systems in 26 states caught
business leaders by surprise. Seven company managers also were
arrested on charges of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants.

Federal immigration chiefs rolled out plans for sustained work-site
and other “interior” immigration enforcement based on what they
say will be a fundamentally different approach. Instead of trying
just to fine employers caught hiring illegal workers, they’ll put
them in jail.

“Employers who were fined in the past felt it was little more than
a nuisance. When they’re looking at criminal prosecutions, they’re
going to take that a little more seriously,” said Jeff Copp, a
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent. Copp
oversaw Wednesday’s raid at IFCO’s yard at 5699 Dexter St. in
Commerce City.

Expect “several other cases in Denver” soon, Copp said.

“We know that companies constantly exploit illegal immigrants.
They know they are not going to go to law enforcement to report
them. … If they are going to run a business, they should do it

The strategy Chertoff unveiled Thursday calls for 171 more
work-site enforcement agents nationwide – and 20 more teams to
track down and deport immigrants who commit crimes and the 590,000
immigrants ignoring orders to leave the country.

Immigration experts for years have been saying that effective
work-site enforcement – removing the job magnet that lures growing
numbers of foreign workers illegally into the United States – is
essential for fixing the nation’s broken immigration system.

New approach welcomed

For years, government enforcers have downplayed this mission, often
citing insufficient resources. The number of employers fined
decreased from hundreds a year in the 1990s to a handful last

The federal raids Wednesday and Thursday “demonstrated that this
department has no patience for employers who tolerate or perpetuate
a shadow economy,” Chertoff said in Washington. “We intend to
find employers who knowingly or recklessly hire unauthorized
workers, and we will use every authority within our power to shut
down businesses that exploit an illegal workforce to turn a

Congressional hard-liners welcomed the new approach.

“After years of calls, letters and protests, (homeland security)
leadership finally might be getting the message: Enforce the law,”
said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., leader of the House immigration

“If this approach continues, the federal government might be on
its way to actually getting at the heart of the illegal-immigration
problem for the first time in memory,” he said.

Business leaders weighed how best to respond. The U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and other groups have lobbied against legislative efforts
to require employers to verify the immigration status of workers.
Current law lets employers off the hook if they make a good-faith
effort to check documents. Prosecutors must prove they knowingly
hired illegal immigrants.

“The federal government should enforce the laws that are on the
books,” Denver Chamber of Commerce vice president Tamra Ward said.
But “business should not be required to be ICE,” she said.

Some immigration activists, on both sides of a fervent popular
debate that has had millions protesting on city streets, said they
suspected a publicity stunt.

Homeland security chiefs launched the crackdown as the . Senate
prepares to resume debate next week on how to fix the immigration

House legislation passed last year included provisions to curb
hiring of illegal immigrants. It would increase fines on employers
who break the law and encourage creation of a national system for
electronically verifying worker status.

The Senate has considered legislation that would legalize most of
the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and set up a visa
program for unskilled workers to enter legally to work.

Bid for more funding?

Most likely, homeland security officials are acting partly in an
effort to win more money from Congress, said Doris Meissner, chief
of immigration enforcement under President Clinton from 1993 to
2000 and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in

“They’re trying to demonstrate that they are a good investment,”
said Meissner, who lauded the new approach.

“Money spent on workplace enforcement is a far better investment
than fences at the border,” she said. “But it is ultimately not
going to go anywhere if there isn’t also legislation that requires
verification (of worker-immigration status) and gives employers a way to comply with the law.”

A federal affidavit alleges that more than half the U.S. employees
of IFCO Systems, a Netherlands-based multinational with North
American headquarters in Houston, had improper Social Security

It alleges company officials transported illegal immigrants to and
from work, paid rent for housing illegal workers and deducted money
from their monthly paychecks to cover expenses.

Senior IFCO officials said they are cooperating fully with
immigration agents.

“We have no comment,” said a woman behind glass doors at the
Commerce City work yard.

Outside, trucks came and went through dust Thursday while workers
behind fences still toiled loading and unloading pallets. A federal
agent looked on.


IFCO Systems

World headquarters:

Amsterdam, Netherlands

North American headquarters: Houston

Sales (2004): $495.9 million worldwide, $280.7 million in U.S.

Business: Makes pallets, containers, crates and packaging;
recycling operations

Territory: North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia

Sources: Hoover’s Company Records & Internet sources

Compiled by Barry Osborne, Denver Post Research Library


Key points of the immigration-enforcement program

Work-site enforcement

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it is shifting its
attention toward employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants,
bringing criminal charges and seizing assets rather than relying on
administrative fines. The Bush administration seeks an extra $41.7
million and nearly 200 additional agents to boost work-site
enforcement efforts.

Crackdown on criminals

ICE says it will work with local prison authorities to identify the
estimated 630,000 foreign-born nationals held in U.S. jails on
criminal charges so that they are deported once they finish their

Officials want to expand “fugitive operations” teams from 35 to
52 to locate the more than 590,000 fugitive immigrants who have
been ordered removed by an immigration judge. They also seek $10
million to expand efforts to track down visa violators.

Smuggling targeted

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE are working to improve
the pooling of intelligence information from various agencies to
attack human-smuggling organizations and track their criminal

Sources: DHS, ICE