Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So this is what you call compassion?

Illegal immigration is, by its nature, a breakdown in the rule of law


By DAVID REINHARD

It will make your blood boil. Read the search-warrant affidavit that federal law-enforcement officials presented to U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks before the recent raid of the Fresh Del Monte produce company in Portland. Your blood will boil.

Not for one reason, and clearly not for the reason of the raid itself or the likely deportation of the illegal workers. But for many reasons. Fresh Del Monte is shaping up to be a case study of our broken system. Our border- and workplace enforcement has done manifold damage—to the rule of law, to U.S. citizens and, yes, to illegal workers themselves.

The search warrant also makes clear that critics of the Fresh Del Monte raid certainly don't have the market on compassion in the illegal immigration debate.

First, the rule of law.

Illegal immigration is, by its nature, a breakdown in the rule of law. Indeed, the magnitude of today's problem betrays a systemic breakdown in the rule of law. The illegal workers don't respect our immigration and identification laws, but they're hardly alone. Employers who wink as they hire them or have other companies hire them; government agencies that haven't enforced existing immigration laws; middle-class folks who hire illegals to landscape their properties or nibble on fruit made cheap by illegal laborers—all are complicit as well in the collapse of the rule of law.

The search warrant (http://blog.oregonlive.com/oregonianextra) is a vivid and galling illustration of how the breakdown occurs: "During the course of that operation, the undercover informant openly discussed with managers at both Del Monte and American Staffing Resources Inc. that he was not legally in the United States and did not have the proper identification to work."

"An employee of American Staffing Resources Inc. provided him with a counterfeit Social Security card, and later provided him with counterfeit Social Security cards and counterfeit resident alien cards for others."

A former Fresh Del Monte supervisor "stated that he estimated between 200-500 undocumented workers were working during his time of employment."

No papers? No problem. Deportations? Just another opportunity to steal across the border.

The search warrant doesn't catalog contempt for the rule of law. It's worse: It catalogs obliviousness to the rule of law. Laws were just not a concern here.

OK, maybe generalities like the "rule of law" or even specifics don't do anything for you. That seems to be the case for people like Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who announced to one and all that he was angry at federal officials for the Fresh Del Monte raids and sorry for "Portland residents" who now faced deportation. But how about a little love for the U.S. citizens who had had their Social Security numbers lifted by Potter's "Portland residents"? Or a little sympathy for us who pay taxes to send our kids to school?

This isn't a victimless crime or, as some claim, a boon to the Social Security system since the illegals are paying into a cash-strapped system from which they'll never receive benefits. The affidavit says otherwise.

You try having somebody filch your Social Security number. The Internal Revenue Service might come calling and ask you to pay back taxes on the earnings reported under your number with no corresponding income-tax return filed. Or the extra wages charged to your hijacked account might subject you to the system's annual earnings test and result in a suspension of benefits.

Yes, the extra wages might lead to a higher Social Security benefit—until the government finds out you didn't earn them, recomputes your benefit downward and bills you for the overpayment. Or, if you receive Social Security disability income, the government might cut, suspend or end your benefits because the unreported wage income would show an ability to work. It's all great fun.

It's doubtful Potter will ever rush out a press release declaring his "anger" about the hassle and disruption that U.S. citizens experience from this kind of identity theft. Nor should victimized legal residents expect the sob-story treatment that marks much media coverage of the illegals' (self-inflicted) plight.

No, a selective and stunted compassion is at work on the illegal immigration issue. There's fretting about what will happen to the detained workers and their families, but little else.

Read the search warrant, however, and your blood will keep boiling. You'll see what the failure to enforce existing immigration laws at the border and on the job can means for illegals who find work here. True, the illegal immigrants put themselves in this spot. They're culpable in all this. But lax enforcement over decades has allowed—even encouraged—desperate people to land in places where they're easily exploited.

Places like Fresh Del Monte. In the search warrant, the government's confidential informant reports on the "extremely unsanitary and dangerous conditions"—filthy bathroom and cafeteria areas, electrical cords beneath standing water. He also mentions that the workers are supposed to be provided boots, but the majority are in sneakers or shoes soaked with cold water. The workers are not paid for the 45 minutes or so after their shift when they put back equipment used during the production process.

The government also interviewed a former supervisor who says the company exempted workers from paying taxes, but only paid them the after-tax rate, "pocketing the rest as profit." It also wouldn't "allow anyone to be paid for more than 40 hours in a workweek, although they were required to work well over 40 hours in a given week." The former supervisor and the informant also told agents that "there was constant yelling by the supervisors to the production staff that included threats of being fired if they did not work as hard as expected."

Why didn't workers complain? Well, the informant addresses that question, too, and his answer goes to the heart of what's wrong with a system that tolerates illegal immigration—and, for that matter, any reform that fails to ensure real enforcement at the border and job site first. According to the search warrant, the ex-supervisor "stated that they were reluctant to complain, because of their illegal immigration status."

Even if Fresh Del Monte is innocent of all this, a work force of illegal workers is inevitably a work force unable to protest its exploitation, real or perceived.

For too long, the nonenforcement of our immigration laws—the absence of raids that the Tom Potters of the world protest—have helped create these workplaces. How compassionate is that?




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