U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst has pledged to vigorously prosecute any companies that knowingly hired illegal immigrants at the seven Mississippi poultry plants raided in August.
If Hurst does, it will be the exception for how these massive raids usually go.
As the Clarion Ledger and other media outlets have documented, although large numbers of undocumented workers are arrested and often deported in these raids, criminal charges seldom materialize against the companies for whom they worked or the managers who hired them. Usually, the penalties are a negotiated fine, and not much more than that.
The reasons are varied. One of the biggest is it’s hard to prove that companies knowingly hired illegal workers. They usually have a plausible defense, such as that they ran their applicants through E-Verify and had no way of knowing the applicants were using counterfeit Social Security cards or other documents. Or they hire a third party to do the pre-employment screening, which distances the employers even further from culpability.
Still, it’s obvious that at least at the assembly-line level, it was known by managers that some of these employees were not working legally at the chicken-processing plants. It’s kind of hard to miss an electronic ankle bracelet, which some of the workers rounded up in the raid were wearing as a result of being arrested for previous immigration violations.
It’s easy to crack down on undocumented workers. It’s much harder, not just in terms of a provable case but because of political pressure, to go after the employers and deal with the ramifications in lost jobs and higher production costs. Reducing illegal immigration won’t happen, though, unless employers quit creating the incentive that lures the undocumented into the country.