Greenberg Traurig, LLP  




Immigration Compliance and Enforcement

December 13, 2006

ICE Agents Put a Chill on Meat Processors

Employers should be on notice that the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is going after employers in targeted industries where undocumented workers are thought to work. Each day brings news of a different, large-scale raid in certain industries -- hospitality, retail, construction, food processing plants -- which are being targeted by ICE. agents. Most often these raids lead to civil penalties, although increasingly agents are pursuing criminal penalties not to mention openly discovering that an employer has hired undocumented workers with criminal backgrounds. Penalties aside, these raids can have disastrous public relations consequences for employers.

Employers should therefore carefully consider their hiring practices and document retention to ensure that they are in compliance with immigration regulations.

The most recent ICE. raid took place just last month, as we closed out 2006, at multiple plants owned by Swift & Company, one of the largest beef and pork processors.

ICE agents arrested nearly 1,300 people — almost 10 percent of Swift’s work force. At a press conference on December 13, 2006, shortly after the raids, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the following --
"....raids that were conducted at six facilities for Swift & Company, Operation Wagon Train, which is the product of months of investigation, is targeted at a massive use of document fraud to support illegal work in the workplace.

ICE agents yesterday arrested 1,282 individuals as part of ongoing worksite enforcement investigations at six facilities owned by Swift & Company, the nation's third largest processor of fresh pork and beef. Warrants were issued at Swift facilities in six states — Greeley, Colorado; Grand Island, Nebraska; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minnesota. Of the 1,282 workers who were arrested on administrative immigration violations, approximately 65 were also charged with identity theft-related charges — those are criminal charges — or other similar criminal violations, including reentry. That number may change as the investigation continues and as more individuals get charged with criminal violations in addition to administrative violations.

The investigation began in February of this year. The evidence we uncovered indicates that hundreds of Swift workers illegally assumed the identities of U.S. citizens, using stolen or fraudulently acquired Social Security numbers and other identity documents which they used to get jobs at Swift facilities. I emphasize that the investigation is continuing, particularly with respect to those who facilitated or conspired with others to allow this use of identity theft to support illegal work. So some of the follow-on is going to continue as the investigation matures."

This raid demonstrates the cohesiveness with which the Federal government is taking on worksite enforcement actions, working with multiple agencies such as the Social Security Administration and Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, it shows a weakness in the current immigration system, which is an employer's reliance on the Basic Pilot program.

Swift & Company claims that indeed they were obeying the rules, even participating in the federal Basic Pilot program, which allows participating employers to check names and Social Security numbers by prospective employees to make sure that the name matches the Social Security number, and that the Social Security number is legitimate. But as Secretary Chertoff said at that same press conference, "while Basic Pilot inoculates a company against one kind of illegal immigration fraud, it doesn't inoculate against all kinds of fraud. There are additional tools that we have to bring into play. The analogy I use is, a polio vaccine protects you against polio, it doesn't protect you against tetanus. You've got to use multiple kinds of vaccines to protect against multiple kinds of problems."

The bottom line is that employers need to be aware of the consequences of not employing a legal work force and that they need to understand first, that if they participate in Basic Pilot that it will not shield them from all charges of hiring undocumented aliens. Second, that it is vitally important to ensure that your I-9 alien employment verification matters are in order to minimize exposure and liability.