Willamette Week is reporting on an extensive investigation into hiring practices at Smith Frozen Foods - the business owned by Senator Gordon Smith.
The investigation makes one thing very clear: Smith has a long history of hiring illegal immigrants to work at his plant - and doesn't screen its workers using the government's instant "E-verify" system.
The full story is here. A few key paragraphs:
It’s a revelation that may not be newsworthy around Weston, where most people this reporter interviewed knew, or assumed, that the agricultural processing plant hired illegal immigrants. ...
At its peak, when seasonal workers supplement its year-round workforce, Smith Frozen Foods employs nearly 500 men and women at its Weston plant. According to the workers themselves, roughly 85 percent of them are Latino. They’re from Michoacán, Sinaloa, Guanajuato and the Federal District in Mexico, as well as several other Mexican states, Guatemala and El Salvador. ..
There is ample evidence to suggest that the hiring of illegal workers is a regular fact of life at Smith’s operation.
Is anyone in Weston willing to put their name to these allegations? You bet:
Some of Smith’s own employees acknowledge that the workforce includes illegal immigrants. Liduvina Ibarra, who is lawfully permitted to work in the United States and was employed by Smith for four seasons, estimated that 50 percent of Smith’s workers were illegal, though she offered no proof. Others at the plant put the figure much lower, under one-third.
Frank Herrera runs a tax preparation service in nearby Walla Walla that serves Spanish-speaking residents. Herrera says in the past year he has helped more than five Smith employees who didn’t have Social Security numbers file their tax returns. Because they were illegal immigrants, they filed their taxes with what are called Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, which are available only to people ineligible for Social Security numbers.
“That’s just a fact of life,” Herrera says of Smith’s hiring undocumented workers. “There’s no question.” ...
Gail Siemers, a lawyer in Walla Walla, says she represents workers from Smith Frozen Foods arrested on criminal charges outside of work. When they’re booked in jail, prison officials check their immigration status, and in that way Siemers often learns her clients are undocumented workers. One illegal immigrant, Antonio Mendez Jr., who worked at Smith for several seasons, was in the Walla Walla County Jail on Monday on harassment charges and awaiting possible deportation. “When it’s going full bore, over 70 percent of the workers on the line [at Smith] are undocumented,” Siemers estimated.
A key element: Smith Frozen Foods fails to utilize the systems in place to help employers screen out illegal immigrants.
An 11-year-old federal program called E-verify allows companies to check instantly whether Social Security numbers match prospective employees’ names and whether other immigration documents granting them the right to work are valid.
Smith Frozen Foods chooses not to use this program. “We tried it in the past, and we were not very happy with it,” Brown says of E-verify, which is used by 80,000 companies in the United States. “It doesn’t work very well.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement defended the free, voluntary program. “If an employer uses E-verify and they encounter errors, there are steps in place to address that,” says ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers. A representative for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services added that E-verify results in errors less than 1 percent of the time.