Deceit In Hiring Unraveling?

By: Rekha Basu
Des Moines Register

August 3, 2008

For a long time, advocates for undocumented immigrants have argued that if the government is going to hold them responsible, it needs to do the same of their employers.

Employers have had a standard response: They didn't know; they were duped; they trusted those they hired to show valid documents. The government has generally accepted such explanations and the workers have paid the full price for the mutually beneficial relationships.

Now comes evidence that the IDs that workers at Agriprocessors were accused of stealing or faking came from the human-resources department.

So far, only two company managers have been charged in the May immigration arrests of 389 workers. Both are accused of aiding the use of fraudulent IDs, and one, Juan Guerrero-Espinoza, with aiding and abetting identity theft. But court papers examined by the Register show evidence that an unidentified human-resources employee actually helped distribute false green cards to workers. Of the 96 fake ones found in that department, about a dozen had pictures of plant employees with other people's names.

Some of the immigrants arrested have told authorities that Guerrero-Espinoza issued them ID cards for $200 to $220.

This has a familiar ring.

After the 2006 raid on Marshalltown's Swift meatpacking plant, four officials were arrested. One, a human-resources employee, was charged with harboring illegal immigrants and "misprision of felony" (failure to report a crime). Immigration and Customs Enforcement insisted they were after identity theft because it has victims. But only two of the 90 Swift immigrant workers arrested in Iowa were charged with identity theft, and some attorneys suggested there wasn't even any theft involved because Americans may willingly have sold their Social Security numbers. U.S. immigration laws make it almost impossible for low-skilled workers to get visas.

There's a common story line emerging here. The Postville immigrants arrested also weren't facing immigration-related charges, but charges of fraudulent or stolen IDs. It now appears company officials may have at least shared culpability for that. What are the chances human-resources officials did this without the knowledge or complicity of upper management?

Employers know they can make demands of an undocumented work force they wouldn't of Americans because immigrants, fearing exposure, will keep quiet.

Abuses at Agriprocessors allegedly were widespread, and included child labor, mandatory overtime, sub-minimum-wage pay and safety violations.

Some immigrants arrested claimed they didn't even know their documents were illegal. That claim becomes more credible if plant managers issued the documents. Yet many can't use this information in their defense since they already pleaded guilty. Given the choice of taking a plea for a known penalty or waiting indefinitely in jail and later being found guilty with worse penalties, they took the plea.

A national immigration expert told the Register this is the first she's heard of any human-resources official accused of helping distribute fake green cards, and called it a "smoking gun."

So it appears to work like this: Companies rely on a mid-level manager to create bogus documents to satisfy the government. When there's a raid, they claim ignorance and let the underling take the fall.

If this thread of deceit unravels, will we finally see plant owners held responsible? Don't hold your breath.