Relying on E-Verify Alone: Playing Chicken with the Feds

Chances are you heard about the big Tyson raids of the past, but it appears that DHS appetite for chicken is bigger than we thought.  Consider the press release just issued (4/17/08)by Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, self-described as “the largest chicken company in the United States and Puerto Rico and the second-largest in Mexico.”  The good folks at Pilgrim’s Pride have steadily relied on the government’s E-Verify system according to wha they say below, but it seems that their approximately 54,500 people made too tasty target for ICE to take that good faith reliance into consideration.  Read on and weep, Bewildered Compliance Colleague:

Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division took into custody a total of approximately 400 hourly, non-management employees at Pilgrim’s Pride processing facilities in Batesville, Ark., Chattanooga, Tenn., Live Oak, Fla., Moorefield, W. Va. and Mt. Pleasant, Texas.

“According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, these individuals have engaged in immigration-related crimes, including aggravated identity theft, in order to fraudulently obtain employment with the company.

“No civil or criminal charges, including charges that Pilgrim’s knowingly hired these employees or conspired to hire them, have been filed against the company in any of these cases. Pilgrim’s Pride cooperated fully with ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s office to help them apprehend these individuals. In fact, it was Pilgrim’s Pride that uncovered the identity theft situation in Batesville and notified the federal government, and we worked closely with them to identify those individuals who were apprehended at the Batesville site.

“The approximately 400 employees taken into custody by ICE represent about 4% of the 9,400 people employed at these facilities. The company is working diligently to prevent or minimize any disruption in operations or service at these affected sites, and we are continuing to cooperate fully with the government in its investigation.

“We share the government’s goal of eliminating the hiring or employment of unauthorized workers. We have terminated all of the employees who were taken into custody and will terminate any employee who is found to have engaged in similar misconduct. We are investigating these allegations further.

“All of Pilgrim’s Pride’s U.S. locations — including those visited by ICE today — voluntarily participate in E-Verify (formerly known as the Basic Pilot/Employment Eligibility Verification Program), which determines employment eligibility for all new hires.

“The E-Verify program, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, verifies the authenticity of the applicant’s social security or alien number and personal information using an automated system that includes verification checks of Social Security Administration (SSA) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) databases. However, as noted by Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the E-Verify/Basic Pilot program cannot detect identity theft situations.

“Pilgrim’s Pride has relied on the ICE Best Hiring Practices in designing its immigration compliance program. These practices include participation in E-Verify, prompt attention to Social Security No-Match letters, and retention of outside experts in immigration compliance to ensure that the company is doing all that it can to verify that its employees have work authorization. These practices also require that the company be sensitive to all applicable anti-discrimination laws.

“As a company, Pilgrim’s Pride continually audits and reviews its processes and procedures to assure continuing compliance with best hiring practices and existing employment law. The company provides education and training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, use of the E-Verify/Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program, and anti-discrimination procedures. Pilgrim’s Pride also conducts internal and third-party audits of I-9 forms and hiring practices on an ongoing basis, and fully investigates any reports of alleged identity theft.”

WOW!  Can you believe all that?  I won’t editorialize further since I think they’ve said this as eloquently as it can be said.  The moral of the story:  good faith compliance doesn’t stop ICE raids.  Only a comprehensive policing of workforce sensitive to IRCA, the Privacy Act AND state and federal employment verification requirements can keep this from happening to U.S. employers in this climate of reckless enforcement driven by politics.

Don’t play chicken with ICE.  Write me or go to our i9 Advantage Home Page and let us get your great big coop in order ASAP.