- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

Immigration agents have arrested 13 illegal aliens working at two meatpacking plants in eastern Virginia after uncovering the workers’ bogus employment documents during an investigation that spanned several weeks.

The aliens — who are from Mexico and Guatemala — worked at two plants in Smithfield, Va., and owned by Smithfield Packing, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

Officials said the aliens, who were arrested Jan. 5, submitted fraudulent employment documents to the company, which unknowingly approved them.

“We went in to take a look at their documentation and advised them that these documents were not correct,” said Ernestine Fobbs, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “It is an ongoing investigation.”

Ms. Fobbs said 12 of the aliens are from Mexico, one is from Guatemala and three are women. All are in ICE custody and in deportation proceedings, she said.

In 2004, ICE investigated 3,258 cases of employers hiring unauthorized aliens, statistics show. Agents closed 3,064 of the cases and arrested 159 persons during the investigations.

Immigration officials had been investigating Smithfield for weeks, but Ms. Fobbs said the company, which cooperated in the probe, is not facing charges.

“At this time, they’re not,” she said. “We don’t have any evidence [for] that, but it’s always an ongoing investigation.”

Company spokesman Jerry Hostetter said that Smithfield Packing “has begun building stronger internal controls to ensure that it does not employ unauthorized workers” and that the company has enrolled in a federal program that allows employers to verify workers’ information with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) program was authorized by Congress under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

“It’s a tool in place to allow employers, hopefully, the opportunity to verify they are hiring eligible workers,” said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for CIS, which heads the program along with the Social Security Administration.

More than 22,000 job sites in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands use the Web-based program, which allows employers to electronically submit information such as a worker’s first and last names, Social Security number and date of birth for verification through CIS or SSA.

In the District, Maryland and Virginia, 1,152 job sites use the program.

“Typically, you’ll get an instant response if everything’s in order,” Mr. Strassberger said.

If the information is not confirmed, “that’s typically the last time you’re going to see that employee.”

Mr. Strassberger said employees also have eight federal working days to protest a nonverification and provide additional information to prove they are eligible workers.

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