In the largest workplace raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to date, 389 workers were detained at the Agriprocessors Inc. meat processing plant in Postville, IA, on May 12th, and during the following week 297 of them were tried on – and pled guilty to – charges of document fraud. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation and the rest were sentenced to five months in prison, after which they will be deported.  

Despite the alacrity of the proceedings and the predictable protests by criminal defense lawyers and immigration activists, all the legal niceties had been observed: the forged documented aliens had court-appointed defense lawyers and Spanish interpreters, reports The New York Times:

The prosecutions … signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers … Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.  …

The illegal immigrants … entered guilty pleas through a Spanish interpreter, admitting they had taken jobs using fraudulent Social Security cards or immigration documents. Moments later, they moved to another courtroom for sentencing.

The large number of criminal cases was remarkable because immigration violations generally fall under civil statutes. Until now, relatively few immigrants caught in raids have been charged with federal crimes like identity theft or document fraud. …

Defense lawyers, who were appointed by the court, said most of the immigrants were ready to accept the plea deals because of the hard bargain driven by the prosecutors.

If the immigrants did not plead guilty [they would have been tried] on felony identity theft charges that carry a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. In many cases, court documents show, the immigrants were working under real Social Security numbers or immigration visas, known as green cards, that belonged to other people. …

No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors, but there were indications that prosecutors were also preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation. …

The workers said that supervisors and managers were well aware that the immigrants were working under false documents.

U.S. attorney for northern Iowa Matt M. Dummermuth, who oversaw the prosecutions, told The Times the operation an “astonishing success,” but The Wall Street Journal sneers, “Do you feel safer?”:

[D]o homeland security officials really have nothing better to do than raid businesses that hire willing workers – especially in states like Iowa, where the jobless rate is 3.5%? These immigrants are obviously responding to a labor shortage for certain jobs. …

It’s also easy to lose perspective. Restrictionists insist that we’re in the middle of an illegal alien “crisis.” Yet illegal immigrant workers in the U.S. number about seven million, which is less than 5% of an overall workforce of 145 million people. 

The Journal, which invariably reduces the illegal immigration issue down to a simple supply-and-demand equation – businesses apparently need a limitless number of cheap workers to eke out even the barest profit, and Mexico, Guatemala and other countries have an inexhaustible supply of the cheapest workers in our hemisphere – has lost its perspective.

The Journal conveniently ignores the fact that an American citizen or legal resident caught using someone else’s identity would be prosecuted and imprisoned, so yes, we should feel safer – especially those who have Hispanic surnames.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown recently interviewed a police detective in Waukegan, IL, where “nearly all the illegal immigrants are Hispanic, nearly all the victims also are Hispanics who are either U.S. citizens or otherwise legally documented”:

Many victims are Puerto Rican, although there also has been evidence of some Puerto Rico residents selling their Social Security numbers to illegal immigrants … “Over the last five years, it’s just got out of control,” says [Tom] Granger, an 18-year veteran of the Waukegan department. …

Granger sees 25 to 30 cases of identity theft a month. He estimates 80 percent of those are employment-related, meaning somebody has used another person’s Social Security number to get a job. Nearly all those situations involve illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America.

The cases usually come to Granger’s attention when the real holder of the Social Security number goes to the police after getting a letter from the IRS demanding they pay taxes on the money earned from some job they never held. He helps victims from Waukegan and victims from other places whose identities have been stolen by somebody living or working in the Waukegan area.

Sometimes, a name that could pass as Spanish is enough to target a person for identity theft, reports McClatchy Newspapers:

[I]magine Amanda Bien’s reaction last Valentine’s Day when the [IRS] wrote to demand $3,300 in back taxes.

For jobs she never worked. … A Lenexa, Kan., Taco Bell. A Wendy’s restaurant. Two Target stores, one in California. The Engineered Air manufacturing plant in De Soto, Kan. Someone, somewhere, got Bien’s name and Social Security number and gave it a workout.

A 28-year-old illegal immigrant was later arrested at the De Soto plant and faces ID theft charges. …

While lawmakers in Washington debate ways to crack down on illegal immigration, the market for false documents and stolen Social Security numbers is booming.

Particularly vulnerable, authorities say, are legal residents with Hispanic last names. Or, as in Bien’s case, names that could sound Hispanic. …

Federal estimates indicate that nearly 10 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year. Officials can’t say how many of those identities are being used by illegal workers, but prosecutors in Kansas say they see more cases of illegal immigrants using fake credentials every year. …

Many victims don’t learn of the crime until their credit score drops or a loan is denied. In one recent Kansas case, a man found out when he was arrested for a crime committed by an illegal immigrant using his identity. …

Bien would like to see ID thieves charged with federal crimes. She believes federal authorities could push for greater sentences, and be more likely to start deportation proceedings.

Clearly, Bien doesn’t read The Wall Street Journal. This unenlightened woman doesn’t understand she must stop whining about the hassles and financial losses she and millions of Americans incur because of identity theft, so as to ensure cheap labor is fed into the insatiable maw of Agriprocessors – and other meat and chicken processing plants, farms and orchards, hotels and restaurants, nursing homes, landscaping firms, and construction companies – without ceasing.   

Here’s another reason you should feel safer now that the feds are finally enforcing our laws: Since May 5th ICE agents arrested 905 people in CA on various immigration violations, a quarter of whom had been convicted of crimes while in the U.S. The New York Times reports:

“The focal point of this operation were people who had exhausted all of their due process in the courts,” said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego. “They have a final order of removal issued by a U.S. immigration judge, and they’ve failed to depart.”

In the process of seeking each person on the list, Ms. Mack said, agents often encountered friends, family members and others who had violated immigration laws.

“Agents may come to a house looking for a target, and someone answers the door, or there are other people in the house who have also violated immigration laws,” she said.

In addition to the 495 targets federal agents were originally seeking, 410 people were taken into custody for being here illegally, returning to the U.S. after deportation or overstaying a visa. More than half of those arrested have been deported.

In its editorial, The Journal also takes aim at the E-Verify program in which employers are required to ensure that the Social Security numbers that their workers supply are, in fact, theirs:

E-Verify is pitched as a check on undocumented workers. But this law would require that every worker in the country run this new verification gauntlet to change jobs.

E-Verify is currently a voluntary pilot program for new workers. About 50,000 employers use it, and studies have revealed problems galore, partly because the Social Security Administration (SSA) database on which it relies contains an error rate of around 4%. With about 55 million new hires in the U.S. annually, a 4% error rate means erroneously flagging some two million people each year. They would then have to visit their local SSA office to prove in person that they have permission to work in their native land.

The Journal is engaging in duplicity and deceit, plain and simple. As Bob Sullivan explains in MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles blog:

[M]any – if not most – of the 9 million mismatches are immigrants using the wrong SSN. One study by Social Security indicates no-match payments come most frequently from agricultural and restaurant industries, for example.

Not every mismatched SSN belongs to a real living person, and in fact, it appears many are chosen at random. Some belong to the deceased; others are entirely fictitious. One study showed thousands of entries using obvious fakes, such as 123-45-6789 or 999-99-9999.

But many victims are very real.  Recently, officials in Utah matched a database of children receiving welfare benefits with a database of workers paying state taxes and found 1,800 child victims.  It’s impossible to know how many of the impostors were undocumented workers, but Utah Assistant Attorney General Rich Hamp says that behind most cases the agency has prosecuted so far, he’s found an immigrant using someone else’s papers.

To address The Journal’s concerns about E-Verify, the program will prove most effective in rooting out identity theft and immigration law violations with the fewest erroneous mismatches if mandatory compliance were required only for certain categories of businesses known to habitually violate immigration laws – for instance, nearly half the employees at Agriprocessors were found to be illegal. It is highly unlikely that paralegals, accountants or newspaper editorial writers, to cite a few examples, will need to worry about proving they are citizens whenever they change jobs.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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