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E-Verify faces added scrutiny in the wake of Mississippi raid
The May 12 raid at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the nation, was the location of the largest single-site immigration raid in the nation’s history. That changed Monday when federal authorities swooped down on a Howard Industries plant in Laurel, Miss.
Press releases from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicates that 595 individuals suspected of entering the country illegally from Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil and Germany were detained as a result of the raid. More than 100 of those detained have already been released back into the community with ankle tracking devices on humanitarian grounds. Nearly 500 have been transfered to a federal detention facility in Jena, Louisiana to await further processing and possible criminal charges.
The names and faces have changed, but the stories coming out of Mississippi in the wake of the raid will not sound new to Iowans who have been following the news in relation to Postville.
A report today by Holbrook Mohr of the Associated Press:
A day after the largest single-workplace immigration raid in U.S. history, Elizabeth Alegria was too scared to send her son to school and worried about when she’d see her husband again.
Nearly 600 immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally were detained, creating panic among dozens of families in this small southern Mississippi town.
Alegria, 26, a Mexican immigrant, was working at the Howard Industries transformer plant Monday when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stormed in. When they found out she has two sons, ages 4 and 9, she was fitted with a bracelet and told to appear in federal court next month. But her husband, Andres, wasn’t so lucky.
“I’m very traumatized because I don’t know if they are going to let my husband go and when I will see him,” Alegria said through a translator Tuesday as she returned to the Howard Industries parking lot to retrieve her sport utility vehicle.
The superintendent of the county school district said about half of approximately 160 Hispanic students were absent Tuesday.
Roberto Velez, pastor at Iglesia Cristiana Peniel, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the 200 parishioners were caught up in the raid, said parents were afraid immigration officials would take them.
The Hattiesburg American, a newspaper located just 40 miles from the site of the Mississippi raid, has already began questioning both a state law requiring employers to verify identities of employers and the use of the federal E-Verify system. The Mississippi law requires employers to use E-Verify, a web-based database operated by the Department of Homeland Security that draws from Social Security Administration information.
… Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer of Sanderson Farms, a chicken-processing plant based in Laurel, said the system’s downside is its inability to detect false or stolen ID information.
“If somebody comes in and they manufacture a name …. that’s the primary weakness in the system,” Cockrell said.
Although Agriprocessors was not using E-Verify at the time of the May 12 raid, Marshalltown’s Swift & Co. had been using the system prior to the December 2006 raid there. Officials with Howard Industries have claimed to use “every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs.” It is unknown at this time if the company was using the E-Verify system; however, it is possible that because of the change in Mississippi law the company had begun to use it. In that case, only newly hired employees would have been run through the government database.
But as the Iowa Independent reported two weeks ago, one of the primary criticisms of E-Verify is that it cannot ascertain if the documents being presented by workers to those doing the hiring are legitimate. Conversations about E-Verify have continued, the latest taking place in Topeka, Kansas where the city council there voted 8 to 1 to reject a proposal that the city implement the program.
Nonetheless, if Howard Industries is found guilty of hiring individuals not legally eligible to work in the U.S., the company could lose state contracts for the next three years and its business license. In addition the manufacturing company could face a stack of fines. The penalties are a part of the Mississippi Employment Protection Act, a piece of legislation that went into effect on July 1.
The Mississippi legislation also contains penalties for undocumented workers. They face a felony charge that carries jail time between one and five years as well as a monetary fine of up to $10,000.
Mississippi state Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, was a co-author of the legislation and said the state should launch its own investigation now that the federal authorities have conducted the raid.
“It’s important to realize that people want to point fingers at the immigrants, but the businesses are taking advantage of that situation,” he said. “If we can put a stop to that, then the immigrants wouldn’t come here anymore.”
At the present time, eight of the detainees from Mississippi have been charged with aggravated identity theft. They appeared in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg on Tuesday. It is unknown how many additional detainees will be charged as ICE officials refer to the investigation as ongoing.
Laurel is significantly larger than Postville. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 18,393 — a figure that increased significantly following Hurricane Katrina. Postville had a population of roughly 2,300 before the May 12 raid. Perhaps due to the larger population base, it appears as if Howard Industries won’t suffer the extended worker shortage that has plagued the Postville meatpacking plant. An office manager for the local job center told Eloria Newell James of the Laurel Leader Call that his agency has seen an increase “in traffic from people interested in jobs at Howard.”