View Full Version : ICE audit forces EDCO to fire 50 undocumented workers

09-19-2011, 08:06 PM
This is sort of halfway stepping in the right direction:

ESCONDIDO: ICE audit forces EDCO to fire 50 undocumented workers


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Escondido Disposal Inc. recently fired more than 50 of its roughly 200 employees after a federal immigration audit found those workers lacked the documents required for jobs in the United States, company officials said Tuesday.

Mayor Sam Abed and other aggressive critics of illegal immigration praised the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday for conducting such audits, which have become much more frequent under the Obama administration.

"About 55 jobs that were occupied by illegal workers are now available for legal workers," said Abed, stressing the scarcity of jobs in a bad economy. "Every business must follow the law, and we need to have zero tolerance."

But others criticized the ICE audits, complaining that they are sometimes inaccurate and that they often displace veteran employees navigating their way through the complicated process of acquiring proper documentation. Such audits also encourage creation of an underground economy where workers are paid "under the table," critics said.

"These are hard-working people providing for their families and helping their communities," said Pedro Rios, San Diego director for the American Friends Service Committee immigrant rights group. "They get replaced by less-skilled workers, and the companies get exposed to lawsuits."

Jeff Ritchie, vice president of Escondido Disposal, said he was shocked to learn last month that about one-quarter of his workforce lacked proper documents, such as valid Social Security numbers or papers allowing them to work in the U.S. as non-citizens.

"We're as vigilant as possible," said Ritchie, noting that many of the employees were hired before there was an independent way to verify their status. "We didn't get fined, because the audit found that we were in compliance. The only problem was, the documents that the employees presented were counterfeit."

Ritchie said his company, which hauls trash and recyclables for the entire city, was one of the first to begin using the federal government's E-Verify system. But that program is geared to determine the eligibility of new workers, not those already on staff.

Mayor Abed said the audits are a crucial complement to E-Verify, which compares data from a wide range of U.S. records with information a new employee provides on the "I-9" employment eligibility form.

"A big drawback of E-Verify is that it doesn't go back and check existing employees," said Abed. "I'm pleased ICE is doing audits to make businesses accountable."

ICE shifting focus

ICE announced in June that 1,000 companies across the country had been notified they were facing audits. But ICE officials declined to provide a list of companies, and they do not release the results of audits unless the company is subject to criminal charges or civil fines.

Before 2009, ICE had focused primarily on workplace raids instead of audits.

Ritchie said the fired employees, who made between $8.50 and $13 an hour and worked mostly in Escondido Disposal's recycling facility, had not been deported for lacking proper documents.

Lauren Mack, ICE spokeswoman for the San Diego region, said workers typically aren't deported after audits because the audits are part of ICE's effort to shift the focus of enforcement from employees to employers.

"Responsible employers who seek to conduct their business lawfully are put at an unfair disadvantage as they try to compete with unscrupulous businesses," Mack said in an email response to questions from the North County Times. "Such businesses gain a competitive advantage by paying illegal alien workers low wages, or otherwise exploiting them."

Mack declined to confirm any details of the Escondido Disposal audit and declined to say what other businesses in the region had been audited or were scheduled for an audit.

Harvey Mitchell, chief executive of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, and Gary Knight, chief executive of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, said they have not heard any concerns from their members about audits.

Eric Larson, executive director of the the county's Farm Bureau, said the local agricultural community hadn't been targeted so far, but that many farmers are concerned they will be soon be audited.

ICE officials have said they choose businesses for audits based on tips and the type of business, with companies that affect "critical infrastructure and key resources" more likely to be audited.

Escondido a target?

But Hun Taing, field director for the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she thinks Escondido companies are likelier targets for audits because Escondido is the only city in the region to establish a formal partnership with ICE.

Under that partnership, which was created in May 2010, two ICE agents assist patrol officers in their contacts with illegal immigrants charged with crimes. They also help Escondido police determine whether suspects are in the country illegally or are wanted for deportation.

Taing also said the audits threaten to eliminate a large chunk of the workforce in Escondido, where Latinos outnumber whites 49 percent to 40 percent. She also said many of the workers perform jobs that citizens wouldn't want, such as sorting through trash for Escondido Disposal.

Ritchie said the open positions were quickly filled in a tight labor market, but he said it was not easy to replace the experience those workers represented.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz agreed that the fired Escondido Disposal workers had unappealing jobs, and that they should have the right to apply for citizenship after being productive members of the community for so many years.

"It makes me sad for people to be displaced after achieving some sort of stability," she said.