- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) | After the biggest immigration raid in U.S. history, hundreds of workers have been sentenced but not one company official as yet faces any charges - something critics say is typical of a federal government that is tough on employees but easy on owners.

Worker advocates and lawmakers say the arrest of nearly 400 workers in a May 12 raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville - or more than one-third of the total number of employees - proves that company officials must have known they were hiring illegal immigrants.

“Until we enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees who break the law, we will continue to have a problem with immigration,” said Rep. Bruce Braley, Iowa Democrat, whose district borders Postville.

Such raids are designed to garner headlines and make it appear that the federal government is cracking down on illegal immigration, said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration-reform group America’s Voice.

But he says even those who think enforcement is the answer can’t seriously believe the 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. can be arrested and deported.

“Even if you wanted to pursue an imbalanced enforcement-first strategy, the only thoughtful way to do it would be to go after employers, make examples of them and try to scare other employers into compliance,” Mr. Sharry said. “They’re not doing that.”

The owner of the Postville plant, Aaron Rubashkin, has said that the company is conducting its own investigation “into the circumstances which led to the recent work-site enforcement action, and is fully cooperating with the government.” He said the company could not respond to specific charges owing to pending legal issues.

Court documents filed by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent before the raid at the Postville plant indicate that authorities thought company supervisors were violating several federal laws, including harboring illegal immigrants. An application and affidavit for the search warrant claimed that:

cBased on 2007 fourth-quarter payroll reports, about 78 percent of Agriprocessors’ 968 workers were using false or fraudulent Social Security numbers in connection with their employment.

cAgriprocessors was notified by the Social Security Administration in five separate letters of 500 Social Security number discrepancies for each tax year from 2000 to 2005.

cA Department of Transportation investigation found that an Agriprocessors supervisor was forcing workers to buy cars from him and purportedly registered the cars under falsified identities. An investigator found at least 200 cars were bought in this manner.

cThe Iowa Department of Labor uncovered workplace-safety problems including 39 citations since October. Fines of about $182,000 were reduced Tuesday to $42,750 after the company agreed to correct some of the violations, which included improper storage and handling of hazardous chemicals and inadequate training in the use of respirators and handling of blood-borne pathogens.

cCharges of child-labor law violations are under investigation by the state. The investigation initially was halted by the ICE raid, but has resumed, said Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman Kerry Koonce. If confirmed, the violations could be prosecuted as misdemeanors under state law.

cOccupational Safety and Health Administration logs show records of incidents that led to five amputations, dozens of reports of broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss at the plant between 2001 and 2006.

Immigration officials said the 389 arrests at the plant meant it was the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.

Of those arrested, 297 pleaded guilty and were sentenced. The guilty pleas included use of false identification documents to obtain employment, false use of a Social Security number or card and unlawful re-entry into the United States.

About 60 of the workers taken into custody were released for humanitarian reasons and do not face criminal charges, while 20 others were detained on immigration violations only and face deportation proceedings, said Bob Teig, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Iowa’s Northern District.

Five other defendants did not enter pleas and have cases pending in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

The large number of people arrested, coupled with the charges against Agriprocessors, has led some to conclude that the company is at least as culpable as the workers.

“I’ll be interested to see if federal authorities will be bringing any charges against the employer,” Mr. Braley said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Braley has questioned the cost of the Postville raid as well as an operation at Swift & Co. plants in Marshalltown and five other Midwest cities in 2006. Although federal agents arrested about 1,300 workers in raids at the Swift plants, Mr. Braley noted that no top company officials were charged.

ICE officials told Mr. Braley they didn’t have a cost estimate for the Swift raids.

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