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October 2007, Volume 13, Number 4

DHS: Other Enforcement

In September 2007, DHS sued the state of Illinois, which enacted a law prohibiting employers from using the E-Verify system to check newly hired workers. The Illinois law, which goes into effect in January 2008, bars state employers from participating until DHS verifies that the system is 99 percent accurate within three days. The state said that E-verify is only 50 percent accurate, and that it often takes 10 days to clear up records. SSA says that 17.8 million records, 4.1 percent of the total, have errors, including the records of 13 million US citizens.

DHS is seeking to block the Illinois law from going into effect, saying it conflicts with DHS's sole right to determine how to verify the legal status of new hires. According to the suit, E-verify had 22,205 participating US employers on August 31, 2007. Employers made 2.9 million verification requests in the first 11 months of FY07, up from 1.2 million in FY06. About five percent of the workers whose information is submitted are found by E-Verify to be unauthorized.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union sued DHS in September 2007, alleging that ICE agents unlawfully detained legal workers and violated their constitutional rights during raids of six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants on December 12, 2006. The suit asks a federal judge to prevent ICE from detaining legal US workers while it searches for unauthorized workers. ICE says that many Swift workers had no IDs and claimed to be legal US workers; the UFCW said that the nature of their work made it hard for many workers to carry wallets.

Some 1,297 of the 12,000 workers checked were arrested, and 694 had been removed as of March 2007. DHS says that almost all of the 274 arrested for criminal identity theft were convicted. ICE returned to the Swift plants in July 2007, making 20 more arrests. Brazilian firm JBS acquired Swift from a private equity firm for about $1.5 billion in July 2007, making JBS the world's largest beef processor.

In September 2007, ICE raided six DeCoster egg farms in Wright County, Iowa; 51 workers were arrested. DeCoster has been raided at least four times since 2001; in June 2006, 36 workers were arrested. In August 2007, ICE arrested 29 workers at Smithfield Foods Inc in North Carolina, the world's largest hog-processing plant; 25 were arrested for identity theft. In October 2007, ICE arrested 100 employees of McDonald's in Reno, Nevada, drawing criticism from Reno's mayor.

Smithfield Foods has 5,200 employees at its Tar Heel, North Carolina pork processing plant, the world's largest, which processes 30,000 hogs a day. Beginning in November 2006, ICE agents began to check the legal status of the workers in Tar Heel, prompting 1,100 Hispanics to quit. Most were replaced by US-born workers at the entry-level wage of $10.75 (wages average $12 an hour), but plant managers say turnover has increased- 60 percent of the newly hired US workers quit within 90 days of being hired.

The Tar Heel plant opened in 1992 with mostly Black workers. Hispanics arrived after the mid-1990s, replacing Blacks who quit. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which lost elections at the plant in 1994 and 1997, says that turnover is high because Smithfield expects too much work. The UFCW asked Smithfield to recognize it as the workers bargaining representative on the basis of a card check rather than an election.

Steven Greenhouse, "Crackdown Upends Slaughterhouse's Work Force," New York Times, October 12, 2007.