Eric Ruark's picture

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  by  Eric Ruark

Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided seven chicken processing plants in Mississippi and took 680 people into custody. Two of the plant operators soon followed with statements claiming they had been using E-Verify and had no idea they were hiring illegal workers and, therefore, had no culpability for having hired so many.

Peco Foods:

We adhere strongly to all local, state and federal laws including utilizing the government-based E-Verify program which screens new hires through the Social Security Administration as well as the Department of Homeland Security for compliance.

Koch Foods said it was:

...an early adopter of the government’s own E-Verify program which screens new hires through the Social Security Administration, as well as the Department of Homeland Security to ensure they are compliant.

These assertions were taken as gospel by opponents of E-Verify who, without any corroboration, began braying that once again the best intentions of the most scrupulous employers were foiled by an E-Verify system that not only enables the hiring of illegal aliens, it guarantees that result. To hear the Cato Institute -- the Koch Industries “think” tank -- and other corporate mouthpieces like American Enterprise Institute’s Madeline Zavodny tell it, there is no reason to believe that any employer would ever knowingly violate the law by hiring unauthorized workers.

The National Chicken Council wrote an open letter to President Trump bemoaning the failure of the federal government to provide it with any method of protecting its members from inadvertently hiring the multitude of illegal aliens that work in their plants. (On the NCC website one can also find that the key ingredient in the process of manufacturing chicken nuggets is transglutaminase, an enzyme “determined to be generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, otherwise known as “meat glue.”)

Despite the protestations and some outright fabrications, there is plenty of reason to believe that those responsible for hiring at the chicken plants in Mississippi targeted by ICE did indeed knowingly employ illegal aliens, and willingly, and feloniously, misuse E-Verify.

In its applications to obtain search warrants to conduct enforcement operations against the plants, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) filed affidavits attesting to that fact that it had “probable cause to believe that” A&B, Inc., Koch Foods, Pearl River Foods, Peco Foods, and PH Food, Inc. “are willfully and unlawfully employing illegal aliens in violation of Federal law.”

MP Food and PH Food were reported to both be associated with A&B, Inc., which would explain why there were some conflicting accounts in how many plants were engaging in criminal activity, but, according to HIS, there was sufficient evidence to believe that the operators of all plants were knowingly hiring illegal workers. Not that they had done so because of the failure of E-Verify.

In March 2019, the Social Security Administration (SSA) resumed mailing notifications to employers alerting them of discrepancies submitted on wage and tax statements, for instance if twelve John Smiths with identical Social Security numbers were reported as being employed in the same plant – a very improbable occurrence. This should have put plant operators on notice. At the very least, they had sufficient time to rectify any discrepancies.

Further, there are multiple reports that the plant operators knew they were hiring unauthorized workers, were complicit in procuring false identification for their employees, and in some cases, were not using E-Verify at all [see examples below].

What we do know so far is that there is plenty of evidence that those in charge of the plants knowingly and willfully violated the law by hiring illegal aliens. What we don’t know yet are all the details. Nonetheless, Cato's Alex Nowrasteh asserts that “E-Verify’s biggest supporters should acknowledge the failure of their program in Mississippi.” This is the wish fulfillment of a childlike imagination (I’m trying hard to be kind here.)

Those who oppose E-Verify do so because it is extremely effective when used properly. However, it has limited effectiveness at the present time because it is not required under federal law. Mississippi required it for businesses operating in the state, but enforcement there has been lax to non-existent, a combination of a lack of resources and push-back from the business lobby.

E-Verify isn’t lacking. The problem is the lack of political will to make E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers and to enforce laws (already on the books) against criminal employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. Yes, there will always be attempts to circumvent E-Verify, but it is difficult and costly to do so, and increasingly unlikely without the willing cooperation of an employer. Plus, E-Verify offers "safe harbor" to employers who do use it in good faith, which means if an employee is authorized to work, for example by stealing another individual's identity, the employer is not held responsible. Of course, no system is perfect, but E-Verify opponents would have you believe that they are so dedicated to a legal workforce that only a perfect system will do. That's laughable.

This week ICE issued a statement that contained the following:

Our investigation in Mississippi continues and all parties found in violation of law will be held accountable. This includes the employers who profit off their crimes.

This is encouraging, and we will be following to find out what the investigation yields. In the end, only if criminal employers are held to account will the widespread practice of illegal hiring come to an end.

**Informant Statements**

The informant said employees used their real names and made-up Social Security numbers to apply for jobs at PH and A&B. 'The payroll companies, as well as PH Food Inc. and A&B Inc. do not verify the authenticity of their documents,' the informant told investigators. -- CBS Austin

[The informant] said A&B manager Salvador Delgado didn't want it reported because [Secretary Heather] Carrillo knew which of his employees were real and which were fraudulent…The agent notes investigators believe Delgado was embezzling money from A&B by adding fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to the payroll and keeping the proceeds. -- Capital Gazette

One woman told agents that a Spanish-speaking human resources employee at Koch Foods in Morton looked at two different IDs in three weeks….Another Koch employee said she worked at one plant in Morton for 11 months under a false name, and then got a job at the town's second Koch plant under her real name after receiving valid U.S. documents. -- Capital Gazette

A human resources employee at Peco Foods plant in Bay Springs plant talked to an ICE informant about people hired twice under different names, according to the warrant application. The human resources employee stated that 'Peco Foods management does not care. -- KOMO News

In most cases, people on ICE’s electronic-monitoring programs are not authorized to work. But according to the affidavits, dozens of employees in such programs were found working at the seven chicken plants in 2018 and 2019. One successful job applicant was told by a supervisor during her interview that she would need to keep her ankle monitor charged while she worked. -- The Washington Post

A Guatemalan woman who worked at the Morton plant since November 2016 told immigration officials in May that when she applied for employment, her first application was denied.

"She was told by a Human Resources (HR) employee (unidentified female) at the plant that if the ‘papers’ were not good, she was not going to be hired,” according to the affidavit by agent Williams.

About three weeks later, the woman used another name to send application materials to the same Koch human resources employee and was hired. “Even though she returned to the plant within three weeks and used two different identities, the HR employee did not ask anything related to her identity,” it says. -- The Washington Post

Updated: Fri, Aug 30th 2019 @ 1:05am EDT

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