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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Sanctions: INS vs Tyson

On December 11, 2001, the US filed its largest-ever employer sanctions case, United States v. Tyson Foods Inc. in the Eastern District of Tennessee, which accuses Tyson of 36 counts of recruiting illegal workers from Mexico and transporting them to 15 of Tyson's 57 poultry-processing plants in the Midwest and South. Tyson, the largest meat processor in the US, with 120,000 employees at 130 locations, could be fined up to $18 million.


On April 2, 2002, Tyson was sued on behalf of four US-citizen employees under the federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations law. The RICO civil suit contends that Tyson sought illegal workers because they work hard and scared, and that the US workers received lower wages as a result. The allegation is that: "Tyson is violating RICO by employing large numbers of illegal immigrants at 15 facilities causing the overall wage structure to be depressed." The workers, in their RICO suit, are asking for damages three times "the amount of wages that were depressed" during the period they were with Tyson. On April 19, 2002, one of the indicted Tyson Foods managers from the Shelbyville plant committed suicide.


In July 2002, the RICO suit was dismissed, with the judge ruling that the workers were required to show that "they directly suffered loss of wages because Tyson employed illegal aliens." The judge noted that wages could have been affected by other factors, such as the availability of workers and the profitability of the business.


The Tyson case is the fourth RICO suit filed by Chicago attorney Howard Foster of Johnson & Bell; 1996 immigration reforms allowed RICO suits in connection with the hiring, smuggling or harboring of illegal migrants. A RICO lawsuit must first prove that the underlying crime was committed, and then show there was a racketeering enterprise--such as a pact between a smuggler and an employer. In November 2001, the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals reinstated a RICO case filed by Foster against a Connecticut janitorial company, Colin Service Systems Inc., on behalf of a competitor who accused Colin of hiring unauthorized workers and underbidding it for jobs.


A RICO suit against Zirkle Fruit Co., an apple grower in Yakima, Washington, was dismissed and is on appeal. In March 2002, Foster sued IBP, a Tyson subsidiary, claiming that wages were depressed by $4 an hour at the company's meatpacking plant in Joslin, Illinois, because half of the 2,000 workers were unauthorized.


Nebraska Beef. The US government charged Nebraska Beef and several managers with conspiring to ship busloads of Mexican workers to Nebraska every few weeks to work in the meat-packing plant. However, a federal judge in April 2002 dismissed the criminal indictments, ruling that the US government acted in "bad faith" in its investigation of the Omaha meatpacker's alleged use of unauthorized workers.


During a December 5, 2000 raid, the INS detained 210 unauthorized workers, and most were removed from the US within two days. Nebraska Beef argued that the INS should not have removed the workers, because they could have provided information that would have benefited the company, such as testifying that the company did not provide them with false documents.


West Virginia. Under a law that went into effect in June 2002, employers who hire unauthorized workers can be fined up to $1,000 for each illegal immigrant hired on a first offense, and $5,000 per worker for second offenses. The West Virginia Division of Labor will enforce the law.




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