Postville raid is not enough

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Although the biggest workplace raid in Iowa's history resulted in the arrest of over 300 undocumented workers, the raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, will have little long-term impact on illegal immigration.

The arrested workers should and will be deported, but they came here out of desperation and there is nothing we can do to desperate people to prevent them from attempting to pursue a better life.

Only when we make the cost of hiring illegal aliens unacceptably high for the employer will the demand for their labor dry up.

Agriprocessors, Inc., which operated a kosher slaughter house in the northeast Iowa town of Postville, is possibly one of the worst abusers of workers in an industry notorious for taking advantage of desperate workers.

There are initial allegations that the company paid less than minimum wage and, in at least one case, physically abused a worker.

Executives of the company should be prosecuted for their violation of human rights and quite possibly will be.

However, violations of law among companies employing illegal aliens are usually more subtle. Claims at these companies that the executives did not know that workers were illegal, although not plausible, contain the remote possibility of being true. Such a possibility, however remote, precludes proving criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

Such a defense needs to be eliminated through the availability of a federally operated employee database, made available to any employer with an IRS tax ID number. The database could cross reference Social Security Numbers to determine that the person identified was actually born with that name, has not died and currently lives at no other address. If this isn't sufficient to control ID fraud, then additional identifying information would need to be collected from the employee by the employer.

Perhaps large civil penalties would be more effective than criminal penalties as a way to combat the use of undocumented workers. Such penalties need to be massive, especially for repeat offenses. The imposition of civil penalties requires a less burdensome level of proof than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for criminal prosecution and would be a way to partially fund the efforts of ICE.

We sympathize with the illegal immigrants, who are victims of corporate opportunists, but we sympathize more with the millions of legal laborers in the country whose wages are kept down by an abundance of illegal workers.