January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1
Enforcement: Swift, Crider
No-Match. DHS announced a no-match enforcement strategy on August 10, 2007 to encourage employers to fire workers whose data do not match government records. The Social Security Administration each year sends letters to employers paying Social Security taxes on behalf of 10 or more workers for whom the information provided by the employer does not match SSA records. The letters that were to be sent in September 2007 referred to taxes paid in 2006.
DHS and SSA reached agreement that no-match letters sent in September 2007 would include a notice advising employers to inform employees that they should contact SSA to clear up the discrepancies in their records. If the employees cannot clear up discrepancies within 90 days, the letter advised employers to fire them to avoid fines for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. [SSA would not give DHS the names of the employers who received no-match letters, but such letters could be used against employers in the event of enforcement].
A federal judge blocked SSA from sending the DHS letters, agreeing with employers, unions and migrant advocates that errors in the SSA database could lead to legal workers being fired; some errors arise from typos, marriage and divorce rather than illegal migration. DHS agreed to amend the no-match rule and conduct a required survey of its effects on small businesses by March 2008. It also plans to appeal the judge's injunction prohibiting SSA from including the DHS notice with its no-match letters.
As a result of the ruling, SSA did not send any no-match letters that were to go to 141,000 employers of eight million workers for whom there were data mismatches in 2006.
Interior. There is general agreement that ineffective enforcement of laws prohibiting employers from knowingly hiring unauthorized workers encourages illegal migration. Several federal commissions have recommended the development of a secure work-authorization document, such as a Social Security card, and a government database against which employers could check the documentation provided by new hires.
The US does not have a secure work ID, but does have a database to check the work authorization documents provided by newly hired workers. E-Verify (formerly Basic Pilot) is a voluntary system that checks the data provided by newly hired employees against government databases. It aims to reduce the employment of unauthorized workers in a way that minimizes discrimination and burdens on employers while protecting the civil liberties and privacy of employees.
A September 2007 evaluation of Basic Pilot by Westat (released by DHS on November 21, 2007) found that eight percent of newly hired workers whose information was submitted by their employers were initially found to be unauthorized. Most of these workers were cleared after a manual check, which often delayed a new hire's start date or training. Among US-born workers whose data were submitted, 0.1 percent were first told they were not authorized; among the foreign-born, the initial error rate was three percent.
About 23,000 US employers were registered with E-Verify in Fall 2007. Westat reported that between June 2004 and March 2007, some 92 percent of the employees whose information was submitted were deemed work-authorized immediately. Most of the remaining workers were found to be authorized to work in the US, but were deemed unauthorized because USCIS had not yet updated its databases, a process it says it is speeding up.
Some employers use E- Verify to pre-screen applicants, rather than waiting until they are hired to submit their information. However, such pre-screening is unlawful, because the government wants to minimize the danger that a person is not hired because of errors in government databases. Many employers complain they cannot terminate new hires who contest an initial nonauthorization finding until their cases are resolved. Workers who use another person's identity are not detected by E-Verify, which is one reason DHS is adding digital photographs to the work authorization documents it issues.
Julie L. Myers was confirmed as director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in December 2007. Myers said that criminal arrests have doubled in 2007 compared to 2006, as did arrests of unauthorized workers (3,600 workers were arrested in FY06).
The Washington Post reported that 92 employers, 59 owners and 33 corporate officials, human resources workers, crew chiefs and others in the "supervisory chain," were charged with criminal offenses in FY07, and 17 firms faced criminal fines or other forfeitures for immigration-related violations. The other 771 criminal arrests in FY07 involved unauthorized workers who used false identities to get jobs and others who provided false identities, laundered money or committed related crimes.
Swift. ICE called its December 12, 2006 raids of six Swift meatpacking plants Operation Wagon Train. Some 1,282 unauthorized foreigners were arrested, including some who used the identities of legal immigrants and US citizens (often Puerto Ricans) to be hired. Swift, which in May 2007 estimated that the raids cost it $45 million in lost production and recruitment and training costs was sold to the Brazilian company JBS in July 2007.
ICE sent a worker arrested at Swift's Marshalltown, Iowa plant to the home of a supervisor with a concealed tape recorder, and in January 2008 charged the supervisor with facilitating identity theft. ICE had subpoenaed the I-9 forms at Swift's Marshalltown plant in March 2006, and found that 664 of the 2,100 employees assumed the identities of US citizens when hired. ICE undercover agents had recorded a UFCW official advising employees using false documents to provide their real IDs if stopped by police.
Crider. In summer 2006, DHS audited the employment documents of chicken processor Crider Inc in Stillmore, Georgia, finding 700 suspected unauthorized foreigners among the 900 employees. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, ICE raided the plant, which had few Hispanic workers remaining.
Crider, located in a rural area with few residents, raised wages from $7 to $9 an hour and turned to the state Employment Service, hiring 200 of the 400 job seekers who were referred. It also turned to recruiters, especially Peacock Poultry, which recruited Black workers and offered them housing in Crider-owned dorms in Stillmore.
Blacks had been 70 percent of Crider workers in the mid-1990s, but their share fell to 15 percent before the raids in 2006; Crider wages were $6 an hour just before the raids. Crider's president said Hispanics replaced exiting Blacks in the 1990s because "We want people who want to work and are willing to work every day." The Blacks hired in Fall 2006 soon ran afoul of supervisors, who told them to go back to work after slips and falls. There were also disputes with the contractors, many of whom cashed workers' paychecks and left them with no documentation of their hours or earnings.
The Macon Diversion Center, 90 minutes away, allows those on probation and living in a combination detention center-halfway house to work at Crider in order to pay their fines and to reimburse the $600-a-month cost of their room and board. State officials say that the average stay in the diversion center is six months, but worker advocates say that until they complained, the Macon center took from probationers' wages at Crider first the room and board charges, and then the fines. They say this practice gave Crider "captive workers" longer, since the center recoups only a third of its $1.5 million a year operating costs from residents who work.
Crider in 2007 turned to an Hispanic contractor for workers, and the Hispanic share of workers has begun to increase again. It appears that Crider and its supervisors became familiar with the work discipline of unauthorized workers and complained that replacement workers were not as good.
Pilgrim's Pride Corp, a major poultry processor based in Pittsburgh, Texas with 55,000 employees, was indicted for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers after undercover ICE agents bought false documents from vendors linked to the firm's Human Resources employees. Those indicted helped unauthorized workers to get jobs in the chicken processing plants for $800 fees, which included $600 for false documents.
Susan Berfield, "Feds' fierce probe of meatpacker Swift seen an ominous sign for employers," Business Week, January 4, 2008. Spencer S. Hsu, "Immigrant Crackdown Falls Short," Washington Post, December 25, 2007. Westat. 2007. Findings of the Web Basic Pilot Evaluation. September http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/WebBasicPilotRprtSept2007.pdf