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Obama administration continues quiet crackdown on undocumented workers

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/a3f639101aThumb.jpg.jpgScenes of massive immigration raids in the Iowa communities of Postville and Marshalltown have faded from the public’s collective memory, and current federal officials appear to want to keep it that way.

Immigration officials announced Thursday that they are ramping up their existing crackdowns on employers who hire illegal workers by creating an audit office that will work to further verify employment documents. The new office, which will specifically scrutinize I-9 employee data from employers selected for audits, is the latest in a trend of actions by the Obama administration to shift away from work site enforcement actions (a politically correct term for plant raids) and put a higher onus on the companies that employ undocumented workers.

Tyson Foods became the first major food processor to join the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement IMAGE program this week. Ken Kimbro, Tyson Chief Human Resources Office and Senior VP, attended an official signing ceremony and news conference with ICE Director John T. Morton.

As a part of this effort, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. announced during a press conference Thursday that it would join a voluntary nationwide U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program called IMAGE, which stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. The program was designed to encourage collaboration between federal authorities and employers.

“ICE’s collabortion with Tyson Foods illustrates this administration’s commitment to working with industry to encourage a culture of compliance with U.S. employment laws,” said John T. Morton, ICE director. “Tyson Foods is setting the gold standard for Fortune 500 companies everywhere, and ICE is proud to be partnering with the company in this significant effort to protect our nation’s lawful workforce.”

Tyson Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Ken Kimbro noted that by joining the program the company will be able to “use all available tools provided by the U.S. government to verify the documents of the people we hire.”

“We’ve also gone beyond government tools, spending millions of dollars over the years on such things as training, computer systems and help from outside consultants to make sure we’re employing people who are authorized to work in our country,” Kimbro said.

To become certified, Tyson was subject to an I-9 audit and other check by federal authorities. The company met other requirements of the program through existing internal policies and programs such as regular self-assessments or internal audits of hiring practices, voluntary participation in E-Verify and the Social Security Number Verification Service and personnel training on hiring and employment document fraud detection.

It was during the formal signing ceremony with Tyson that Morton announced the creation of an employment compliance inspection center in Virginia. The center is expected to be home to 15 additional auditors who will support the agency’s immigration enforcement strategy by expedition of I-9 field audits. According to ICE officials, such audits are “one of the most powerful tools the federal government has to ensure that businesses are complying” with the law. From fiscal year 2009 to date, ICE has initiated I-9 inspections against 3,769 businesses across the nation.

“This center will allow us to ensure the capacity to do a lot of large-scale audits,” Morton said.

The creation of the inspection office also allows Morton and the Obama administration to make good on a 2009 promise that it would move away from the Bush administration’s practice of conducting massive work site enforcement actions that resulted in thousands of worker arrests and subsequent deportations. Such actions, including two notable ones that took place in the Iowa towns of Marshalltown and Postville, were vehemently criticized by immigrant rights groups who believed the government was placing too much scrutiny and punishment on individual workers and not on the companies that employed them.

During the past fiscal year, ICE conducted audits of more than 2,740 companies — nearly twice as many as it completed the fiscal year before, according to the Wall Street Journal, which was given details in advance of the official announcement. Immigration officials also handed companies a record-breaking $7 million in civil fines.

Although ICE began its IMAGE program in 2006, only about 100 companies have joined thus far — many unwilling to open their records to government auditors and/or uninterested in the financial outlay required for new systems and training. Federal officials are hopeful that the agreement with Tyson will help bolster the program.

Tyson Foods is one of the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, and the second-largest food production company in the Fortune 500. According to the company’s 2009 Fact Book, it operates in eight Iowa locations — Cherokee, Council Bluffs, Denison, Independence, Perry Storm Lake, Waterloo and Louisa County — and employs roughly 9,000 in the state. Tyson employs approximately 115,000 people at more than 400 facilities throughout the nation.

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